Editor, the VOICE:
Many of you know that I joined with Sen. Mark Mullet, Rep. Paul Graves and Rep. Jay Rodne in opposing levy measures in two neighboring school districts that would increase their combined state and local levy rates.
As one of the lead McCleary negotiators in the state legislature from 2013 to 2017 and co-chair of the joint committee that prepared progress reports on school funding legislation to the Supreme Court, I felt it was important that these districts know that our legislative intent with the levy swap was to REPLACE unconstitutional local levies with the state’s Common Schools Levy, not to raise combined property tax rates. Also, both districts in question would receive more than DOUBLE their net state and local funding over 8 years with the McCleary remedy, and so there was little justification provided for the need to raise tax rates.
You’ll notice that Tahoma was not called to task for pursuing the max levy rate. That’s because:
– Even at the max $1.50 mil rate, TSD combined state and local levy rates are still expected to DROP by $0.62 per $1,000 assessed value.
– TSD’s combined increase in state and local funding for McCleary is a more modest 72% (54% per pupil).
So, with the school district getting more per-pupil funding while taxpayers in the district received a significant net levy rate reduction, we didn’t expect the initial levy proposal to fail. Other factors were obviously in play, but both the district and taxpayers benefitted by its passing.
Looking ahead to the April 24th election, there is one other important factor to consider: Tahoma’s average teacher salary is currently one of the highest on the Eastside, even exceeding districts like Lake Washington and Bellevue. This is primarily because Tahoma has attracted a relatively senior staff mix. Historically, about 83% of school operating budgets are for staff compensation, and according to the latest OSPI report the average teacher in Tahoma currently costs the district $103,930 each year in salary and benefits.
Because staff mix is no longer considered in the state school funding model, the Tahoma school district is going to have to work very hard to retain its most experienced teachers. In the supplemental budget last month legislators were able to provide some temporary relief by bumping TSD’s “regionalization factor”, but it’s absolutely critical that they pass the local levy so that there’s funding for additional time and responsibility, which are still considered constitutional ways to spend local funding on staff compensation. Also, if the levy fails, the district may be forced into layoffs…a process that issues pink slips first to the teachers most recently hired. This only makes the staff mix challenges worse.
Today I am joining many others in the community who have endorsed the April 24th local school levy, and I urge you to PLEASE VOTE YES! This is a critical investment in schools during a difficult transition to a completely overhauled school funding model. I worked for years in Olympia to ensure the state’s program of “basic education” finally met the minimum bar, but local communities still owe it to their kids to provide more.