Richland School Board to discuss levy renewal at current rate

Tri-City HeraldOctober 17, 2013 

— The Richland School Board will discuss next week asking voters to renew the district’s maintenance and operations levy at its current rate, which would generate about $4.3 million more for schools over the current levy.

Board members gave consensus during a Wednesday workshop to have Superintendent Rick Schulte bring the proposal for a $45 million levy to the regular board meeting on Tuesday. The board has until mid-December to finalize a resolution to get it on the February ballot.

“Sooner is better in my mind,” Schulte said of seeking a board decision.

The district potentially could ask for a higher rate without surpassing a cap on local levy amounts but keeping the rate at its present level will generate more money than several other approaches, Schulte said.

“It gives us flexibility,” said board Chairman Rick Jansons.

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. The Pasco and Kennewick school districts also are expected to seek levy renewals this winter.

The levy will collect $19.8 million in 2013 and $21 million in 2014. The rate is expected to be $3.24 per $1,000 of assessed property value, or $324 a year for a $100,000 home in 2014.

That’s up from the $3.21 per $1,000 in assessed property value Richland taxpayers are paying in 2013. Richland uses the bulk of its levy to pay for teachers, but it also is used to pay for librarians, counselors and instructional aides. The money specifically is meant to support extracurricular and other additional programs such as art, music and athletics.

Increasing student enrollment, federal budget cuts, the opening of new schools in the coming years and sluggish growth of the state’s fiscal responsibility to K-12 education could require the district to lean on the levy more in the future, Schulte said.

Several board members said they had no interest in proposing a renewal levy that would generate the highest-allowable amount. That would have raised the levy rate to as high as $3.66-per-$1,000 and generated an additional $8.5 million for the district.

But the board didn’t want to give further consideration to collecting the same amount as the current levy, nor did it want to consider a levy that would have provided an additional $2.8 million to the district but dropped the rate to as low as $3.09-per-$1,000.

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver

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