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Burien, Des Moines Councils Support Highline Schools Levy; Ballots Due Feb. 8

by Ralph Nichols [1]

Both the Burien and Des Moines city councils have unanimously endorsed the $188 million replacement levy for Highline schools, which appears on the Feb. 8 special election ballot.

Voters in the Highline School District must mail their ballots by Tuesday, Feb. 8. A simple majority is required to renew the levy.

Supporters of the ballot issue have been taking their message to city councils and community groups, and have sent information mailers to Highline residents.

On the other hand, no organized opposition to this ballot issue has surfaced, and only a few dissenting comments have been made on the blogs.

While the proposed levy, if approved, will replace the current four-year educational programs levy that expires this year, the amount of funding will actually increase.

“When the state cut education funding during last legislative session, lawmakers gave school districts the authority to increase levy collections to help make up for the state cuts,” explained school district spokeswoman Catherine Carbone Rogers.

“The difference between the expiring levy and the new levy amounts to about $164 per year for a $300,000 home,” she said. “That is, the homeowner will pay about $164 per year ($14 per month) more than he or she is currently paying.”

The new levy amount in dollars per year is:

Current levy collections will be $38 million this year.

Revenue from education programs levies funds nearly 25 percent of the Highline schools’ general fund budget, according to information provided by the district.

“Eighty percent of the levy pays for teachers and other support staff. Levy dollars fund roughly 250 jobs,” along with textbooks, bus transportation and building maintenance.

Highline Schools Superintendent John Welch said because of “shrinking state funds, an increasing portion of the funding for our schools comes from our local school levy.

“Originally, levies were designed to fund athletics and activities that were considered ‘extras.’ Now we depend on levy dollars to fund basic education.”

A levy fact sheet states that “the district has cut $14.5 million over the past three years as the state has cut funds for the schools. Highline schools face up to $2.1 million in mid-year cuts this year, and additional state cuts next year.”

Carbone Rogers said the increased dollar amount in the proposed replacement levy is offset “a bit” by “a reduction in the rate per $1,000 homeowners pay for school capital bonds, which pay for capital improvements such as school construction. That rate is dropping from $1.73 per $1,000 to $1.67 per $1,000….

“The voters approve a fixed amount,” she added, “so levy rates can fluctuate as assessed valuation goes up or down. For example, if property values rise, the tax rate goes down so that the dollar amount the homeowner pays does not increase.

“Conversely, when property values drop, the levy rate goes up – but the actual dollar amount stays the same. The revenue the district collects never goes above what voters have approved.”

Should the levy fail, the fact sheet also states, “this would mean layoffs of teachers and support staff.” Other budget cuts in that event could include a shortened school day, fewer courses, increased class sizes, and the elimination of athletics and other extra-curricular activities.

“This is a critical time for public schools in our community and across the state,” Welch observed. “Schools must perform to a higher standard than ever before in order to prepare young people to compete in a sophisticated global economy.

“At the same time, the current economic crisis has forced the state to make unprecedented cuts in public school funding” – placing a greater burden on local taxpayers.

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