Pasco school operations levy won't meet expected costs, board told

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldAugust 27, 2013 

The Pasco School District may have to cut some programs or ask taxpayers for more money when the maintenance and operations levy comes up for renewal in February.

District officials told board members in a Tuesday study session that the current levy amount of about $20 million per year won't cover expected costs after 2014, despite projected savings and additional revenue.

"Our goal has been to keep the rate as flat as we can for taxpayers," said Superintendent Saundra Hill.

The board didn't make a final decision. The four board members at the meeting said that while cuts to programs are hard, it will be more painful to make cuts if voters reject a levy they think is too expensive.

"I think raising it is not an option," said Vice President Bill Leggett. "We're not going to go there unless we absolutely have to."

Most Washington school districts use voter-approved maintenance and operation levies on property taxes to fill the gap left from shortfalls in state and federal allocations. The money goes to basic education programs and needs, and can't be used for construction.

About 20 percent of Pasco's budget comes from levy dollars and levy equalization money provided by the state. Most of that money goes to arts programs, curriculum, technology and school nurses but also pays for some athletics expenses, operations costs and opening new schools. The current levy expires in December 2014.

The current levy rate is $4.46 per $1,000 in assessed property value, according to Howard Roberts, the district's finance director. That's five cents less than what the district told voters it would be when it was renewed in February 2012.

But even if the district asked for a levy of $4.51 per $1,000 in assessed value, it still would provide about $500,000 less than what is needed to maintain current programs and open an elementary school currently under construction and two more in 2015.

"We need about 10 more pennies (per $1,000) to get to that number, which would be a pretty good jump," Roberts said.

Hill said she and other district officials aren't recommending an increase to the levy, but asked the board for direction so a proposal could be developed this fall.

Board members appeared in agreement that raising the rate isn't an option, but they do want to see what effects there could be from keeping the rate flat. It's more critical the levy be renewed and there be some belt-tightening than for voters to reject it outright, they said.

"We can't afford to not pass the levy," said board member Ryan Brault.

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402;; Twitter: @_tybeaver

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