By PAUL DELANEY
Staff Reporter 

ML school measures face voters

Levy will help fill needs not funded by state, security updates part of capital levy

 

February 8, 2018

Paul Delaney

Photo by Paul Delaney School officials in Medical Lake hope voters will heed this message and approve a pair of funding measures Feb. 13.

Medical Lake School District officials are hoping a potentially confusing new way to fund a significant part of their operations will not keep voters from approving a pair of measures that pay for critical operations.

The ballots are already in voters' hands for their consideration or hopefully not lost on the kitchen table for a measure that essentially renews a funding stream. But the numbers will look both slightly different, and overall somewhat less than the existing maintenance and operations levy.

The levy that is soon to expire, coupled with bonds that financed improvements and expansion at both Medical Lake Middle School and Hallett Elementary, collected $4.43 per $1,000 of assessed property valuation. The new request totals $4.11.

The new request is for $1.50 per $1,000 of valuation that will cover educational programs and operations, plus a second measure requests 40 cents per $1,000 that will fund a variety of capital improvements across the district - specifically aimed at safety and security upgrades.

"With the change in the state law and the stipulations on what levy dollars can be used for, it makes it even more important to support levies," Superintendent Tim Ames said.

Previously, $1.95 per $1,000 covered both maintenance and operations in Medical Lake and every other district across the state. New rules initiated by the state legislature in 2017 during their effort to satisfy state Supreme Court mandates to fully fund K-12 education - and be in compliance with the McCleary Decision - only allow levy money to be spent on instruction and operations.

The levy funds things such as athletics, bands, transportation, nurses and numerous other needs that are not education-specific.

"We asked for it and got $1.92 on our last (per/$1,000) value and basically said we're going to cap you at $1.50 and tell you how to spend that," Ames said. "We just took 42-cents out of your pocket, which we always used basically for maintenance and supporting our facilities, and have to go back and ask for the 42-cents."

The urgency of passing the added capital improvement levy is best illustrated by efforts to improve school security. The majority of the improvements outlined by the district center around plugging some holes so-to-speak in places outlined by a recent study by Spokane County Sheriff's Office Dep. Travis Pendell.

"His comment (at the Jan. 30 school board meeting) was good, we have safe schools but not necessarily secure schools," Ames said. It's important to explain the second measure, Ames added.

Some of the current rules for levies were crafted in the final hours of the 2017 legislative session in Olympia that went into three overtimes before approved and sent to Gov. Jay Inslee in the final minutes of June 30 and the end of the fiscal year.

The $1.50 per $1,000 across-the-board levy amount, however, may still not be the final number when everything is settled during the current 60-day session in Olympia.

Chris Reykdal, Washington state's Superintendent of Public instruction has proposed a bill that would leave levy dollars as is because they have already been voted upon by local communities.

In a video, Reykdal said one of the problems that needs addressing is how previously-approved levy funding at a variety of levels across the state's 295 districts have been slashed. An example is West Valley in Spokane Valley where their current $4.44 M&O will shrink to $1.50 if their 2019 levy is approved.

"Come Jan. 1, 2019, state K-12 education will face the loss of an estimated $1 billion annually that will be removed from prior levels of funding," Reykdal said in the video, calling it a "levy cliff."

Paul Delaney can be reached at pdelanely@cheneyfreepress.com.

 

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