Pasco school levy total to be higher, but taxes won't go up

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldOctober 8, 2013 

Pasco School District voters likely won't be asked to raise their school taxes when asked to renew a levy supporting various school programs in the February election.

But they are expected to be asked to approve a two-year levy total that's $3.5 million more.

The district is considering asking for $21.7 million in 2015 and $22.2 million in 2016.

Its current levy will collect $20.1 million this year and $20.3 million in 2014.

The Pasco School Board gave consensus during a work session Tuesday to ask for a two-year levy of about $4.51 per $1,000 in assessed property value, though the board still must vote to put it on the ballot.

Voters approved a levy that was expected to set that same rate-per-$1,000 two years ago, but changes in total assessed property values ended up making the rate lower.

District administrators had said before that a larger amount would be needed to maintain all district programs supported by the levy. However, an increase in state dollars coming to the district will allow the district to maintain what it currently provides if the new levy is approved.

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, operational costs and opening new schools. The levy expires in December 2014.

District residents pay about $4.46 per $1,000 in assessed property value.

Administrators earlier had said that more money would perhaps be needed, as the district will be opening three new elementary schools in the next two years. The district also has said it plans to dedicate more money to dropout prevention efforts. Board members worried about asking for an increased amount, as that could put approval of the levy at risk.

However, Howard Roberts, the district's finance director, said a recent influx of state dollars, thanks to a Washington Supreme Court decision ordering the state provide more to K-12 education, means there will be more money for supplies and other needs, decreasing pressure on the levy.

"The take-away here is we can put a levy before voters at the (last) advertised rate without cutting any programs," said Superintendent Saundra Hill.

Bill Leggett, board vice chairman, said he was happy that the district wouldn't need to increase the levy rate to keep valuable programs but questioned how the state was suddenly able to find the money the courts are requiring it provide to schools.

"I think this is what hurts education," he said. "Suddenly we talk about finances and they find the money somewhere."

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