Aberdeen School District sends pair of levees to February ballot

Building upgrades, school programs levees would total $33 million in revenues after four years

The Aberdeen School District recently sent a pair of property tax levees to February’s special election ballot intended to pay for a slew of programs and building upgrades and modernizations.

After a recommendation from district administration, the district’s board of directors last week approved to send both measures to the ballot. Voter approval of both four-year measures would allow the district to levy an estimated $3.50 per $1,000 of assessed value at the outset, a rate that’s projected to fall by 18 cents over the course of four years and garner a total of about $33 million between the two measures.

If approved, each levy would begin collections in 2025 and end after 2028.

The more substantial of the two, a levy for Educational Programs and Operations, would cost taxpayers about $2.50 per $1,000 of assessed value for the first two years and then descend to $2.42 and $2.32 for the next two years, respectively. Those rates will accumulate $5.95 million each year over the next four years, funds to pay for programs like music, athletics, clubs and academic support programs, plus staff not fully funded by the state, such as cleaning and tech support.

Aberdeen School District Superintendent Jeff Thake said the operations levy, which the district renews every two to four years, accounts for 9% of the district’s budget.

The district’s smaller levy ask — $1 per $1,000 of assessed value — will fund building needs around the district: intercom upgrades, roofs, repairing landslide damage to tennis courts, resurfacing, playgrounds, parking lots, ramps and other upgrades.

“We have a lot of aging facilities,” Thake said. “These are must-do items.”

The capital projects levy will garner anywhere from $2.18 million to $2.46 million each year over the course of the next four years, amounting to a little more than $9 million in total.

“We thought we would spend the next four years really investing in our current facilities and properties,” Thake said. “I think the community really holds our properties, our schools, as sacred places. I think it’s a good faith effort for us to put those capital project dollars into our schools.”

Thake said the district opted for a capital projects levy given that bond measures have struggled recently across the state of Washington. Multiple Grays Harbor school districts have failed bond measures in the last few years, including Aberdeen in 2020, when a $47 million measure failed to gain 60% of the vote by a narrow margin.

A previous 20-year taxpayer bond for the Aberdeen district will expire at the end of 2023. Because of that expiration, Thake said, the district’s total property tax rate should voters approve both bonds — $3.50 per $1,000 of assessed value — will remain lower than the rate from the last few years, which was $3.83 per $1,000 of assessed value.

In a presentation to the school board earlier this month, Thake estimated that, for a home worth $250,000, approval of the two levies combined would cost property owners in the Aberdeen district anywhere from $830 to $875 each year for the next four years.

In 2017, the district’s levy rate was nearly $7, but that fell dramatically the following year after the McCleary decision, a state Supreme Court case that obligated the state to pay for essential programming, and a following Legislature action that capped district operations levy asks at $2.50 — the amount Aberdeen will ask for in 2024.

Contact reporter Clayton Franke at 406-552-3917 or clayton.franke@thedailyworld.com.