Legislators approve raised levy amount for school districts

The Washington State Legislature raised the cap on local school levies statewide as part of a Senate bill approved last-minute on Sunday in an attempt to help some districts that were hurt financially by the new state funding model for schools.

Under the approved Senate Bill (SB 5313) which was passed just before midnight Sunday, school districts can now raise their local levies up to $2.50 per $1,000 in assessed property value, up from the previous cap amount $1.50 per $1,000 in value. The state allows districts to either collect that amount, or $2,500 per student in the district — whichever is less.

In the House of Representatives, Brian Blake, Mike Chapman, Steve Tharinger voted in favor of the bill, while Jim Walsh voted against it. In the Senate, Senators Dean Takko and Kevin Van De Wege also voted in favor of the bill. The House of Representatives passed the bill with 53 representatives in favor and 45 against it, while the Senate passed the final reading with 25 senators in favor of the bill and 23 against it.

For the Aberdeen School District, Superintendent Alicia Henderson said this would allow the district to collect the higher levy amount in the spring of 2020, but didn’t have many specifics yet of how much additional funding it would mean for the district. She added that some additional funding for special education was added through the Legislature at the last minute as well, but is unsure how much it will be.

The district would not need another community vote to increase the district to $2.50 per $1,000 in value, but it would need to go out for voter approval again in spring 2020 because the current levy agreement will expire after next school year.

These bills are intended to assist some districts, like Aberdeen, which say they received significantly less under the new state funding model to address the “McCleary” federal court case, which found that the state must fully fund for what it considers “basic education.” That in turn cut how much districts could fund through local levies, with Aberdeen’s being cut from $4.31 to $1.50 per $1,000 in assessed value beginning last January.

Hoquiam Superintendent Mike Villarreal, could not be reached for comment Monday about the raised levy amounts, but that district is in a similar dilemma. Both have had to notify teachers and staff that their jobs may be cut, ironically in the same year that teachers in both districts received double digit raises.

Both districts issued multiple layoff notices last week, as part of efforts to stay financially stable this upcoming school year, and have to notify certificated staff (which includes teachers or other positions which require certificates) by May 15.

Henderson said she still needs confirmation, but believes there was also some funding added to the state budget as a one-time payment for the “hold harmless” provision of the McCleary decision, which was a push from the Washington Association of School Administrators to financially assist school districts that went backward financially under the state’s new funding model.

Henderson said she’s “pleased” the Legislature made some changes in funding to help out struggling school districts, and that it could potentially be until June when more details come out like how much additional funding comes from the approved bills, and what strings will be attached to the funding.