By David Bungert
The Steilacoom Historical School District #1 (SHSD#1) has placed on the February 2014 ballot a Maintenance and Operations Levy for approval of the voters. I am voting to approve the levy.
I do not want to battle the Statement Against or Mike Gorski. I will address a few of his points and questions posted to an article about the levy in the South Puget Sound News and the published Statement Against in the voters’ pamphlet. I have read the entire February 2014 voter’s pamphlet. There is a lot of emotion in all the levy requests and not much justification. I do agree with Mike Gorski on his request for accountability vs emotion.
Why special elections?
“There is just something I find unsettling about seeking additional funds during “special” elections where turnout is always low. If it is only a renewal then why not place it on the last ballot?”
School districts budget on a school year while levies are collected on a calendar year. Therefore, they place their Maintenance and Operations levies on special elections prior to August. The Steilacoom School Board approves the school district budget in August of each year for the school year beginning at the end of August. The 2013-2014 budget was approved August 22, 2013. This is the last school year budget based upon the 2010-2014 levy. If the School Board waits until the next general election to run a levy, they will have to approve a 2014-2015 school year budget without knowing the outcome of the levy vote. Therefore, the Steilacoom School Board is acting fiscally responsible in placing the levy on the ballot in February 2014 for collections starting in 2015.
Renewal vs tax increase
There is also reason to question the verbiage that this is a “renewal of current funding.” If it is a renewal then why is the amount collected increasing $700,000 over current collections over the life of the “renewal?”
The Maintenance and Operations levy can cover four years by state law. The term renewal is used by the “For Committees” in stating the fact this is not a new tax. The levy rate can go up or down depending on the student enrollment of the previous school year, assessed value of property within the district, projected growth and the RCWs.
The reason/justification for this levy increase is explained in RCW 84.52.0531.
- RCW 84.52.0531 dictates the formula that districts must use to determine how much they can collect in a Maintenance and Operations levy.
- The state provides estimated budgets.
- The district uses the state estimates to calculate the levy amount requested for each year, following the guidance in RCW 84.52.0531. Included in these estimates is projected enrollment growth.
- Using historical county calculations of assessed property values, the district determines an estimated rate per thousand based upon the levy amount requested.
- The district collects the actual dollar amount approved by voters, provided that it does not exceed what is authorized in RCW 84.52.0531.
- Each year the county updates the assessed value of property, determining the actual rate per thousand for each year.
In summary, RCW 84.52.0531 is the law for calculating the levy rate with the student enrollment of the pervious school year that justify the budget increases. The Steilacoom School Board is not pulling a number out at random as the City of DuPont has done on many of their levy issues in the past.
Tax “rate” diversion
The assessed values of our homes have decreased due to the recession. This has resulted in an increase in the rate per thousand since the school district collects a set dollar amount not to exceed what the voters approved. However, our actual dollars paid has remained relatively constant. For example, my wife and I paid only $25.57 more in 2013 for the levy tax then we did in 2008. If you own a home assessed higher than ours you may be paying a few dollars more and if your home is assessed less than ours you are paying a few dollars less. Those who live in a part of the district where assessed values have decreased faster than in DuPont are likely paying less than they did in 2008.
A budget increase of 53.3% since 2006 doesn’t need votes, it needs justification.
A school budget increase of 53.3% since 2006 can be justified by reviewing the student enrollment increases/decreases each year to the present. Brick and mortar students of SHSD#1 for 2005-2006 student enrollment was 2,233. The 2013-2014 student enrollment currently is 2,946. Doing the math, in summary 2,946 – 2233 = 713, which equals a 31.93% increase of student enrollment. In my observations, a 31.9% student enrollment increase from 2006-2014 along with our significantly expanded facilities can justify a budget increase of 53.3% over the same time period. Student enrollment to budget dollars are not one to one.
DuPont is not done with its planned development. The recession slowed development. Future developments will have an impact on student enrollment for years. There will be continued student enrollment growth for years to come and the projected student enrollment when all development is completed is approximately 3,400 students. The increase of students is the justification for the stated budget increase and for the projected budget increases in the future.
The Statement Against has not asked anyone to not support this levy. It has only asked for justifications and facts before emotions. I provided some insight, facts and justifications to how the School Board chooses the Maintenance and Operations levy amount. How the state, assessed property values, and how the variable of student enrollment affects budget increases over time.
I ask that you please support Steilacoom Historical School District #1 Proposition #1.
If one has any questions there are Informational Meetings:
DuPont City Hall, January 23, 2014 6:30 P.M. 1700 Civic Drive, DuPont, WA 98327
Steilacoom Town Hall, January 23, 2014 6:00-7:00 P.M. 1717 Lafayette Street, Steilacoom, WA 98388