The Monroe School District will hold on to an estimated $3.9 million in its budget that had been threatened by months of indecision in the Washington Legislature to extend a significant local funding option.
The ceiling on property taxes school districts collect to pay for education had been set to drop from 28 to 24 percent in 2018, reducing resources by potentially $358 million statewide. The bill that extends the existing cap for another year, delaying the “levy cliff,” will now head to Gov. Jay Inslee, who says he will sign the legislation.
“Both chambers now passed the levy cliff bill, which will give the certainty our educators need to plan for their upcoming year — we are happy about that,” he said. “It will remove the anxiety that teachers and principals and superintendents and board members were having to labor under while this uncertainty existed.”
Inslee said he will sign the bill as soon as it reaches his desk.
Had the levy been allowed to expire, “we would have had very difficult conversations” this year, said Justin Blasko, MSD assistant superintendent. “We don’t want to have those discussions.”
Blasko estimates the 4 percent loss in tax revenue would have translated to about $3.9 million for the school district. Other estimates for Monroe schools were close to $4.5 million, according to a statement released by Sen. Guy Palumbo, D-Maltby.
“Hopefully this means that we can put this issue behind us and get busy working on a solution to the McCleary ruling that will provide a world-class educational experience for every kid in our state,” Palumbo states in the release.
Inslee said he will make sure the Supreme Court’s decision on the McCleary case is upheld this year. The 2012 ruling found education is not being amply funded in Washington, as is the states paramount duty. No plan to address the ruling has been outlined, but the state is required to do so by 2018.
“Both chambers and parties have now made the commitment to generate dollars necessary — that’s a good thing — but we have a long ways to go to reach a consensus for financing,” Inslee said. “I am glad these discussions are starting on a serious basis. They need to do so...”
Blasko said the levy cliff threatened services outside the prototypical education model, or basic education. After school programs, some transportation, sports programs could all potentially be affected by cuts to levy generated tax dollars. The last time he recalls staff reductions was 2010, when a number of schools had to drop counselors.
“Administrators fully felt that, front offices fully felt that,” he said. “More importantly, students were the losers in that.”
Blasko said remaining dependent on levies means building trust between the school district and community. Voters have to know their money is being spent appropriately, he said.
Levies are unstable funding sources, as they are “wholly dependent upon the whim of the electorate,” according to case documents, and may not be used to meet Washington’s monetary duty to the K-12 system. The current levy lid has been in place since 2010.
Senate Democratic Leader Sharon Nelson released a statement Wednesday, March 8, saying the Democratic party is dedicated to making sure education is adequately funded, and she hopes the Republican party will not look to make up funding through cuts and property taxes. She said the effects of the levy cliff would have been far felt.
“There was almost literally no student, teacher, family or school district that was immune to the potential devastation a $358 million cut would have had,” she said in the statement. “Today I’m happiest for them.”