Replacement Levies, Bus Levy On Feb. Ballot

The School Board is asking voters to approve a two-year bus levy to purchase new buses to replace aging vehicles in the district's fleet. Tahoma has not run a vehicle levy since 2002.
The School Board is asking voters to approve a two-year bus levy to purchase new buses to replace aging vehicles in the district’s fleet. Tahoma has not run a vehicle levy since 2002.

The Tahoma School Board is asking voters to approve a bus levy along with two replacement levies on the Feb. 13, 2018 election ballot.

“This funding is essential to the operation of the school district,” Superintendent Rob Morrow said. “If folks like the levels of learning, service, and programs that their students are receiving now, passing these measures is the way to maintain that.”

At its Nov. 28 meeting, Tahoma School Board voted to authorize a two-year levy to purchase buses that will enlarge the fleet and also make it possible to retire older buses. The $2 million levy would be collected in 2019 and 2020 and would pay for as many as 15 large buses. The estimated cost to property owners is 14 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation in 2019 and 13 cents per $1,000 in 2020. The district has not asked for a bus levy since 2002.

Adding the bus levy means that voters will see three levy measures in February, including replacement levies for technology and educational programs and operations that the board previously approved. Those levies would be collected over four years, beginning in 2019. They would replace existing levies, though at a lower overall tax rate, and would provide funds for equipment, services and staff positions that do not receive state funding. A new state education tax, which is part of the Legislature’s funding formula, goes into effect in 2018.

The levies pay for different things than the construction bond measure approved by voters in 2013. The construction bond pays only for specific capital projects, such as the new Tahoma High School and new Lake Wilderness Elementary School. The school district sells bonds to raise money for construction and uses taxpayer funds to pay back the bonds over 20 years. By law, bond funds cannot be used for ongoing expenses, such as employee salaries or extracurricular programs.

The Educational Programs and Operations levy is estimated to cost property owners a maximum of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value each year, which is half of what is currently being collected. The levy would pay for employees, supplies, transportation staffing and program costs not funded by the state, including special education.

The technology levy is estimated to cost 39 cents per $1,000 of assessed value the first year and would raise $2.75 million each year to purchase computers, communications network equipment, software, and pay for technology support staff.

The combined estimated cost of all three levies would be $2.03 per $1,000 in 2019, compared to $3.46 this year. A home valued at $400,000 would pay $812 per year for the three levies, compared to $1,384 this year.

The school board decided to seek levy approval because, even with changes in how Washington state funds schools, there is still a gap between state funding and what Tahoma needs in order to provide students with a well-rounded education that meets district standards. The new state funding plan, approved last summer, does not pay for classroom technology and does not fully fund staffing costs, special education, athletics and other extracurricular activities, professional learning opportunities, or additional program offerings beyond basic education.

The levies would help Tahoma maintain its current programs and staffing. Projections indicate that Tahoma taxpayers will see a reduction in the local school tax rate even with approval of the levies in February, due to the lower rate for the Educational Programs and Operations levy and the expected increase in property value throughout the school district.

Superintendent Rob Morrow will share further details and answer questions in a series of meetings, including each parent-teacher group, the Chamber, Rotary, Kiwanis, and more. Additional details will also be available on our website. Any questions can be sent to Morrow at rmorrow@tahomasd.us or Kevin Patterson at kpatters@tahomasd.us or 413-3409.