My name is Kris Koski and I am the chair of Aberdeen Citizens for Schools. We are a group of citizen volunteers supporting the Aberdeen School District’s effort to pass two proposals: a renewal of our existing enrichment levy and a construction bond to build a new Stevens Elementary School in South Aberdeen. Our goal is the passage of both of these important measures on the Feb. 11 ballot.
I am writing in response to a letter to the editor published in the print edition of The Daily World on Tuesday, Jan. 28. While the writer’s opinions are his own, I would like to correct and clarify some of the statements that were untrue or misleading.
Statement 1: The letter said that when you add the total annual revenue generated from the levy and bond, that the total is over $7 million and that is “what the average taxpayer is going to be stuck with.”
More correctly stated, each taxpayer will be assessed an amount based on the value of the property that he or she owns. If the bond and levy are both approved, then property owners within the Aberdeen School District will initially pay a total of $6.78 on every $1,000 of assessed property value. So, for example, a property assessed at $100,000 would pay $678. This is the same overall rate that District property owners paid in 2017 for education assessments, including the high school bond and a levy to support operations and extracurricular activities. The Aberdeen School Board structured the current Stevens bond proposal such that payments are interest-only until bond payments for the high school have ended, taking a “hold the line” approach and limiting the tax rate to 2017 levels until 2025. This overall rate will go down starting in 2026 (even with an assumed levy renewal in 2024) by 18 percent because the bonds for the high school will be paid off.
Statement 2: The letter writer says that “you may argue that Proposition 1 will only last four years and then the taxes will come back down again, but you would be wrong. When Proposition 1 runs its course, in four years, there will be another four or five year levy proposed to take its place, and it will probably be even more than the $5,200,000.”
While he is right that the District will likely be asking for a levy renewal in four years — most districts regularly ask for periodic two- or four-year levy renewals to maintain school funding — the amount that the District can levy is capped by the state. With the McCleary Decision changes to school funding in Washington, under state law the Aberdeen School District is limited to a local levy rate of $2.50 per $1,000 of assessed value. This is the value currently being levied, and this is the value that the District is asking for voter approval to renew. It is worth noting that this is significantly lower than the last levy that Aberdeen voters approved in 2018 at a rate of $4.31 per $1,000 of assessed value.
Statement 3: The letter writers says that he is not anti-school and that there “has to be a better, cheaper way to get these things done.”
Unfortunately, we can’t have it both ways. I have served on the Aberdeen School District’s Budget Advisory Committee since October of 2018. We have met nine times for a total of about 20 hours, critically digging into every part of the Aberdeen School District’s finances. When the state’s new funding model didn’t fully fund our District in 2018-2019, the District looked into every corner and tightened its belt. Going into the 2020 school year, belt tightening wasn’t enough and the District left 43 positions unfilled — a major hit to our teachers and students, and an indirect hit to the community with the District being Aberdeen’s largest employer. A figure worth mentioning is that 83% of the District’s annual expenses are the salaries and benefits of its employees. Everything else — buildings, property, materials, technology, vehicles, fuel, etc. — only make up about 17% of the budget. With the District’s annual budget being roughly $53 million, our levies provide the critical revenue that pays for the salaries of athletics and music staff, and there is no alternate revenue source for these positions.
Aberdeen has a long history of supporting its schools and can be proud of the generations raised here. I urge voters to check the Aberdeen School District’s website (asd5.org) for levy and bond information and also to check out the website that Aberdeen Citizens for Schools put together at stevens2020.org.
Kris Koski is the chairman of Aberdeen Citizens for Schools, volunteers working for passage of levy funding and a bond request to build a new Stevens Elementary in Aberdeen. The two items are on the ballot to be decided Feb. 11.