Would replace existing levies for local programs
The Methow Valley School District is asking voters to approve two levies that provide 22% of the district’s budget and pay for general education and technology. The levies replace existing four-year levies that expire next year.
Ballots will be mailed to district voters on Friday (Jan. 24). Ballots must be placed in a ballot drop-box or postmarked by election day, Feb. 11. There is a drop-box in front of town hall in Twisp.
The district is seeking $8.3 million over four years for the Educational Programs & Operations (EP&O) levy. It starts at $2 million in 2021 and adds $50,000 each year over the next three years. The other levy supports technology and would collect $3.4 million over four years at $850,000 per year.
The EP&O levy covers programs including smaller class sizes, books and instructional materials, and professional development for staff. It also pays for enrichment programs including music, arts and world-language instruction; early childhood education; and facilities and school bus maintenance.
The technology levy pays for programs in science, technology, engineering, arts and math, and for career and technical education. It also funds technology for teaching, research and communications; adaptive technology for students with special needs; and education about the safe use of the internet and social media. It pays for computer maintenance, ADA-accessible entrances, and safety and security systems in the school buildings.
Overall, the state provides about 68% of the school district’s annual operating budget, according to a levy fact sheet from the school district. State funding for technology in the 2018-19 school year was less than 1% of the Methow Valley schools’ budget.
Tracking what the new levies would actually mean for taxpayers is complicated, because voters have approved several programs with different expiration dates. Property owners are already paying an EP&O and a technology levy, plus a six-year capital projects/facilities improvement levy, and a bond for the HVAC system and high school roof.
The current election would replace only the EP&O and technology levies. The existing capital projects levy adds about 54 cents per $1,000 in property valuation to the tax bill and expires after 2021. The bonds don’t mature for many years, but the district is paying off some of the bond debt, reducing the taxpayer share from 24 cents to 10 cents, starting this year.
In 2019, taxpayers paid a total of $2.42 per $1,000 in property valuation. Starting in 2021, if both levies pass, the district could collect $2.72 ($1.46 for the EP&O levy and 62 cents for technology). But, because state law caps the amount school districts can raise through an EP&O levy, the district isn’t likely to be able to collect the full amount approved by voters. Instead, taxpayers would pay approximately $1.33 for the EP&O levy, bringing the total to $2.59 per $1,000 in property valuation.
The difference in what the voters approved in 2016 and what the district can collect is about $300,000 per year, according to the fact sheet.
The EP&O levy would increase by 1 or 2 cents per year to cover the $50,000 annual increase. The technology levy would probably drop by a cent as property values rise.
For a taxpayer with a house worth $300,000, the portion of the tax bill that goes toward the local school district is currently $726. That would drop by about $162 after the capital projects levy expires next year.
The school district plans to convene a new facilities task force this year to consider projects that grow out of the current budget process and potential maintenance needs, Methow Valley School District Superintendent Tom Venable said. So, while the current capital projects levy expires next year, the district may end up asking voters to support a new facilities levy, he said.
New state formula
To meet the state’s obligation to fund basic education and make funding more equitable, in 2017 the Legislature capped the amount that districts can collect from taxpayers. The Legislature also increased the state portion of property taxes that fund basic education.
Since Methow Valley School District voters have consistently supported more money for schools than the district is allowed to collect, the district opted to ask for the higher amount in case the law changes, Venable said.
In 2020, EP&O levies are capped at $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value or $2,570 per student, whichever is lower, according to the state Department of Revenue. The tax could increase slightly if enrollment goes up.
There’s no limit to the amount the district can request for technology. “It’s an opportunity to invest technology money in education programs that integrate the use of technology, offsetting the loss in local funding,” Venable said.
The district is asking taxpayers to approve higher amounts for both levies than four years ago. The EP&O levy would collect $8.3 million, starting at $2 million in the first year (compared with a total of $7.4 million four years ago). The total technology levy request is $3.4 million, up from $2.225 million four years ago.