Washington state legislature votes to lift school district levy lid

Amid the announcement of millions of dollars worth of budget shortfalls and hundreds of layoffs at school districts like Spokane Public Schools, Central Valley and Mead in part because of a shift in funding sources due to the state’s McCleary decision, the legislature approved a lift on a levy lid late last weekend.

Spokane Public Schools says the levy lid would have cost them $43.6 million over two years.

But now the state legislature has passed a bill that will allow school districts to collect up to $2.50 per thousand dollars of assessed property value, up from $1.50.

The maximum funding per student would be $2,500 in districts with less than 40,000 students and $3,000 in the Seattle school district.

For smaller districts that aren’t able to collect as much money with levies because of lower property value, the state would continue to provide local effort assistance, if the district’s levy rate is less than $1.50 per thousand dollars in assessed property value, to bring funding up to $1,500 per student.

The tricky part is that the levy lid wouldn’t be lifted until 2020.

“We are trying to understand the legislation and what it means,” said SPS spokesman Brian Coddington.

He said the district is continuing to move forward with the 325 announced layoffs as they have to fulfil contractual obligation before May 15, but may revisit them during the upcoming budget meetings. That budget must be finalized by the end of August.

“We will know within the next couple of months as we go through the process whether we can recall some teachers or not,” he said.

Central Valley spokeswoman Marla Nunberg provided KXLY this statement in response.

“We will continue to evaluate the legislative decisions made, but there is nothing to indicate that it changes our assumption for next year’s budget at this time”

She said layoffs will still happen, but that they will be evaluating the legislature’s decision and how it impacts the district in the coming months.

The superintendent of Deer Park School District Travis Hanson told KXLY that at preliminary glance he’s pleased with the bill and the impacts it will have on his district.

He described that often school funding decision are made to the benefit of property-rich districts and the detriment of property poor districts. He says this legislation simply seems to open up the option for property-rich areas where levies are easily passed to ask voters for money, and doesn’t hurt rural districts like his.

Hanson, Nunberg and Coddington says there is a lot more research and study ahead as the legislation is digested and the impacts determined.

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