Sky Valley voters will be asked to support two Sultan School District levies in an upcoming special election.

Superintendent Dan Chaplik announced at the most recent Sky Valley Chamber meeting the propositions will be placed on the Feb. 13 ballot. One measure supports restoring an existing levy, which makes up about 10 percent of the annual budget, according to the school district. It helps pay for operations and programs, such as special education, transportation, electives, clubs and sports, as well as staffing. 

The other introduces a new levy that would be the first of its kind and fund improvements to how instruction through technology is delivered. Both would cover what costs the state is still not fully funding, according to the school district.

Combined the levies will be less than the single current levy, which was approved in 2014 and is set to expire this year. This is because the state will be funding more of what it takes to pay for a student’s basic education, according to the school district.

Each would run for the next four years. They are estimated to cost homeowners $0.55 per $1,000 of a home’s assessed value for the technology levy, and $1.50 per $1,000 for the programs and operations levy, or $2.05 total; that is compared to the current $3.60 Educational Programs and Operations levy voters approved in 2014.

Chaplik explained the history of similar levies in Washington. He said for years a disparity has existed between what homeowners in rural areas like Sultan pay to help fund public education.

“As the years went by, more and more burden was pushed off from the state onto the local community, and that’s not fair, nor is it right,” he said.

There is some support in sight, Chaplik said. During the last legislative session lawmakers put a “fix in place to try to provide some relief” for homeowners in communities where they are not property rich. These are areas where the taxpayers contribute more in property taxes to amass the same amount, or even less, in levy dollars than those in a neighboring jurisdiction, which may have a broader business base, he said.

Chaplik said the state’s increased support includes a greater portion of staff salaries. Part of that money will come from a statewide property tax increase. What residents in rural school districts pay is expected to decrease in a few years, he said. 

“In the end this should be a win for the citizens and the school district in Sultan, Gold Bar and Startup and all the kids that attend our schools,” Chaplik said.

The state’s new plan is part of the response to the 2012 McCleary decision. The Washington Supreme Court ruling found education was not being amply funded in Washington, as is the state’s paramount duty. The date requiring full compliance was set for September 2018.

The courts ruled in November that the requirements are still not fully being met, although significant strides have been made in the past five years. Because the state is still found to be in contempt, a daily $100,000 fine imposed by the courts will continue.

“The Court’s unanimous decision said the Legislature’s school funding plan falls short of fully funding educator base salaries by at least $1 billion,” according to the Washington Education Association.

Chaplik said the school district has a roughly $27 million annual budget. At any given time there is about $1.5 million in reserves. It costs just about that much to cover monthly paychecks for employees. Money is essentially coming in as it is going out, he said.

“So you can see how tight it is,” Chaplik said.

He said his job is not to persuade voters, but he hopes people will feel more confident supporting the levies knowing the state has their interests in mind. The assistance is also much needed, according to the school district.

For years staff in the technology department have done a remarkable job with limited resources, Chaplik said. Much of the public will never see the reach of their efforts. The money that would be secured through the new levy could help build the infrastructure “that it really takes to allow kids to function in a way that is keeping up with the way society is demanding we do it,” he said.

The voting period for the special election begins Jan. 26. Ballots must be postmarked by midnight on Feb. 13.