Seattle Public Schools is vying for approval of two levies totaling nearly $1.5 billion between 2020-25, which will be placed on the February ballot.
The Educational Programs and Operational (EP&O) Levy and the Building Excellence V (BEX V) Capital Levy are two replacement levies to keep the district’s budget at its current funding levels after two expiring levies expire at the end of 2019.
The ballot measures will appear on the Feb. 12 general election ballot.
Multiple requests for interviews to the district and district board of directors were unanswered by publication.
Every three years the district asks voters to support an education programs and operational levy. The district asks for a capital levy every six years.
“Washington state recently changed how it helps fund schools,” the district’s website states, referring to the McCleary decision, which created abrupt funding changes just before the 2018-19 school year. “Some school districts saw a large increase in state funding, while others, like Seattle, didn’t … the state still isn’t fully funding K-12 education. This creates a gap between what the state funds and what we need for our nearly 53,000 students.”
According to a board action report from Oct. 30, the BEX V Capital Levy will cost $1.4 billion over six years (2020-25). The EP&O Levy will cost $815 million over three years (2020-22).
The kicker is, while the district is asking to raise the EP&O Levy rate from $57 per $100,000 taxable home value in 2019 to $105 in 2020, the Legislature has capped how much a district can collect on local education taxes.
According to its website, the district is hoping the Legislature will make changes to the current education funding formula to allow the district to raise the rate proposed on the February ballot. If the Legislature does not raise the cap, the district will only collect $53 per $100,000 of assessed property value for the EP&O Levy in 2020 instead of the asked $105.
Information provided by the King County Assessor’s Office shows the total Seattle School District tax rate is $201 per $100,000 assessed property value.
If both the EP&O Levy and BEX V Levy are approved in February, the estimated tax rate will be $140 per $100,000 assessed property value in 2019. If the Legislature lifts the cap on funding, the total estimated tax rate in 2020 would be $226 per $100,000 taxable home value.
“We are seeking additional funding authority from our voters to be able to collect at the higher dollar amount,” according to the district’s website. “This is a prudent and common approach other districts have and are using to make sure that we are able to collect funding, if the state makes any changes in the 2019 legislative session.”
According to information from the Washington State School District Association, 94 school districts in the state failed to pass bond measures between 2011-17. While bonds require a supermajority on Election Day to pass, levies only require a simple majority of 50 percent and have a higher rate of approval, but more districts are facing narrow victories with a recent hike in property tax rates.
Voters have supported Seattle Public Schools levies for 40 years.
According to the board report, 19 percent of the district’s operating budget is funded by the EP&O Levy, which pays for day-to-day operations, teachers, additional staff, special education services, technology and more.
“Failure to pass (the EP&O Levy) would result in the district reducing the future general fund budgets by approximately 19 percent,” the report states.
The district plans to collect $271.3 million in 2020, $271.7 million in 2021 and $272 million in 2022 from the EP&O Levy.
Planning for the BEX V Capital Levy began in early 2016. A study of the district’s facilities names eight schools, which were aging and required the biggest updates:Rainier Beach High School, Mercer International Middle School, Alki Elementary, Kimball Elementary, Montlake Elementary, Northgate Elementary, John Rogers Elementary and Viewlands Elementary.
Here is what is on tap for schools in our area under the capital facilities levy:
• McGilvra Elementary would receive exterior cladding, doors and window improvements, playground enhancements, additional computers, printers and teaching and learning technology. Safety and security improvements include card key readers at entries, video intercom systems and potentially more security fencing if a site assessment deems it necessary.
• Madrona Elementary would also receive technology improvements, plus enhancements that provide equitable access to technology for high-need schools, which could include professional development, software and hardware.
• Leschi Elementary would be provided with classroom projectors and screens, sound system, document camera and connecting devices. Security improvements for Leschi would be the same as listed for McGilvra, as would technology enhancements as listed for Madrona.
• TOPS K-8 is also slated to receive safety and security improvements and technology equipment and services that include computers, printers, peripherals and other teaching and learning technology.
• Meany Middle School is also set to receive safety and security improvements and technology equipment and services.
• Garfield High School would receive exterior cladding improvements, safety and security improvements, and technology equipment and services similar to the schools above.
All schools will receive funding for day-to-day operations, instructional materials, textbooks, staff salaries and special education support if the EP&O Levy passes, according to the district’s website.