2 levy measures to appear on Feb. 11 ballot

Levy proposals maintain programs, bridge funding gaps

Tahoma voters will be asked to decide on whether to approve two levy measures that would pay for classroom technology and a wide range of services, supplies and staffing that are not fully supported through state funding or other sources.

At their Oct. 22 meeting, School Board directors voted unanimously to place two levy measures on the Feb. 11 ballot: a four-year Educational Programs and Operations levy (EP&O) and a four-year Technology levy. The vote is the culmination of months of research and discussion by the board, district administrators, and staff.

“We worked hard,” School Board Director Val Paganelli said. “A lot of numbers, a lot of investigation, and a lot of asking questions. I’m looking forward to the commitment to our community of sharing a lot with them so they can see what went into our decision.”

The EP&O levy would replace a two-year levy approved by voters in 2018. The levy provides funds that support people, programs, supplies and equipment that are either not funded or not fully funded by state education dollars. Staff supported by EP&O funds include teachers, school nurses, counselors, principals, custodians, school safety officers, paraeducators, reading and math specialists, substitute teachers, coaches, special education teachers, and food service workers. Programs include athletics, clubs and activities, professional staff development, food service, summer school, and highly capable classes.

Board Director Tami Henkel said the EP&O levy also provides funding for new programs required by the state, such as paraeducator certification training, dyslexia screening, graduation pathways, and closing growth and achievement gaps. Henkel said those and other state-required programs are needed but not all are funded, in part or full, by the state. Because they are mandatory, they must be provided with or without EP&O funding.

“If we don’t get EP&O money, in order to be in compliance with the state we are going to have to take away from something else,” she said.

The EP&O levy would collect $17.4 million in 2021 and would peak at $22.3 million in 2024. The estimated cost is $2 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. The current levy costs $1.50 per $1,000. During its last session, the state Legislature recognized the need for school districts to seek additional local levy funding and authorized districts to collect up to a maximum of $2.50 per $1,000. The school board and administrators saw the need to increase levy collections in order to maintain a balanced budget but want to ensure taxes remain as low as possible. Language is included in the levy resolution that requires the district to review levy income each year and “roll back” (reduce) the levy if the funds are not needed.

“We spent a lot of time deciding on what we thought was the absolute right number to go out into the community and ask for,” Director Katrina Montgomery said. “I am very comfortable and confident that we worked through everything we needed to work through and our work was thorough and that this ask is what our students need from our community.”

The Technology levy would reinstate funding that stopped when a renewal levy was turned down by voters in 2018. The school district is currently using reserve funds to maintain classroom technology equipment and support. The levy would collect $3.9 million in 2021 and $4.3 million in each of the next three years for a total of $16.8 million. It would cost property owners an estimated 45 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation in 2021 and 2022, 42 cents in 2023, and 38 cents in 2024.

Board Director Mary Jane Glaser said the Technology levy amount is the result of work by the board and administrators to reduce levy costs from the first proposal that the board reviewed.

“Through our discussions and studies, we were able to reduce the ask,” she said, adding that it will still provide adequate funding “for a very respectful technology program for our students and our district.”

Paganelli said the district’s months-long process to define educational technology needs and goals will allow the district to catch up with equipment replacement, maintenance, and training. It also enables teachers to take the next step in their use of classroom technology by providing more support for them as they further integrate technology into curriculum.

“There needs to be a comfort level with technology not just in our students, but in those who are leading our students,” she said.