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Sequim schools consider M&O levy
by MICHAEL DASHIELL
Uncertain about state funding in the short term and beyond, Sequim school officials are certain they’ll ask local taxpayers to continue to fund their community’s schools.
School officials revealed Monday an initial proposal for a maintenance and operations levy that would replace the one ending in 2013.
The figures mirror what property owners in the school district will pay in 2013 and keep that number — $5.78 million per year — for 2014, 2015 and 2016.
District officials also are proposing a transportation levy, with both items possibly appearing on a special election ballot in February 2013.
School officials opened discussion of the proposal to community members Monday evening.
“We are trying to be as transparent as possible,” Sequim schools superintendent Kelly Shea said.
Washington state schools have seen declining state funding in certain areas — including Initiative 728 funds that help reduce class sizes — and declines in federal funding for Title I (help for low-income students) and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
“We’re becoming more reliant on local funding for our operations,” Brian Lewis, Sequim School District business manager, told the audience Monday.
According to Sequim School District figures, in the 2011-2012 school year, about 15 percent of Sequim’s operating budget came from levy dollars. In 2013-2013, that number rose to nearly 21 percent.
Where the money goes
Maintenance and operations funds help schools pay for a number of items, with most going to staffing (about 57 percent in 2012-2012). Other areas of levy spending (in 2011-2012 figures) include facility maintenance (16 percent), classified staffing (10 percent), technology support (7 percent), extra-curricular activities and fees (5 percent), curriculum and instruction support (4 percent) and transportation (1 percent).
Levy dollars help schools lower class sizes, provide textbooks and technology upgrades, provide training days for teachers, fund guidance counselors and occupational and physical therapists, and staff special education classes.
In 2012, Sequim schools receive $4.9 million in levy dollars from local property taxes, or about $1.27 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. Property owners with a $200,000 home, for example, will pay a little more than $250 this year for Sequim schools.
In 2013, that number rises to about $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed valuation or about $300 for that same property owner.
Sequim schools spend about $1,780 of local levy dollars per student, per year; the state average is $1,968. Most local schools spend more: Port Townsend spends $2,468 per student while Port Angeles is at $2,216 per student.
Previous Sequim school M&O levies have asked for fewer levy dollars than most districts across the state. The $1.27 per $1,000 of assessed valuation is well below the state average of $2.50.
Community members asked Shea if the district would consider running a four-year levy, instead of the proposed three.
“It’s a security issue,” Shea said. School districts, he said, can lock themselves into a certain collection amount that may or may not be hampered by fluctuations in state funding.
Transportation levy on the table
Sequim school district officials also are examining how much community support there would be for a transportation levy that would help Sequim schools get on track with replacing an aging bus fleet.
Officials also are proposing a one-time, $1.6 million transportation levy, to be voted on at the same time as the maintenance and operations levy.
These funds can be used only to buy or maintain standard school buses.
The levy would cost taxpayers about 42 cents per $1,000 of assessed property valuation, starting in 2014.
Lewis, the district business manager, explained Monday night that Washington helps districts pay for new bus purchases for up to 13 years, remunerating districts one-thirteenth of a bus’s value up to that 13th year. By then, Lewis noted, districts have the funds to purchase a new bus and the process starts over.
But when districts fall off what’s called that “depreciation schedule,” it’s often difficult to maintain an adequate bus fleet. Instead of purchasing new buses with their own funds, districts often will take out loans to buy buses or purchase used ones, all the while falling further back on the depreciation schedule.
New school buses cost from $105,000 to $120,000, Lewis said.
In 2014, Sequim will have 17 buses — more than half of its fleet of 32 — off of the depreciation schedule, Lewis said.
The plan, he said, is to use the one-time transportation levy to buy eight new buses in 2014 and nine buses in 2015; state depreciating funding would help replace aging buses after that and would help fund two generations of bus fleets through 2039, Lewis said.
Other alternatives are to continue to buy used buses or take out loans to buy new buses, or to contract out transportation services. School district officials say each of those options has minor to significant drawbacks.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Sequim went off a bus depreciation schedule, spurred on by student enrollment growth and a double-levy failure in 2001.
“Do those conditions exist today?” Shea asked rhetorically Monday night. “I don’t think they do.”
Local taxpayers see bond issues they passed for Sequim schools in 1998 come off the books in 2014.