Our Voice: Approve school levies and help our children

January 25, 2014 

In general, we support school levies. They fill a gap where state funding fails to meet student needs.

The state constitution requires the Legislature to "amply fund basic education." A state Supreme Court decision last year decided the state is not meeting that obligation. And lawmakers are making an effort to correct that.

But even if they were fully funding "basic education," some things -- art, music and athletics, for example -- don't fall into the definition of basic education.

Levies pay for those extras.

And with the current lack of funding from the state, levies also pay for curriculum and transportation and school counselors and safety officers, librarians and other basics. About one-fifth of public school budgets come from levy dollars.

Cost is a big consideration when it comes to voting for a tax. People want to know how much it will cost them. And they ought to look at that.

Voters, however, also should consider the cost of a levy that fails. A cost that is measured in more than money.

A few years back, North Franklin School District had a double levy failure. They lost their sports programs, math teams and some support staff. Well, a parents' group stepped up to fund athletics, but not to the level the community was used to.

In 1972, Pasco had a double levy failure and lost its orchestra program. It took 30 years to get that back. It's good to hear violins at school concerts in Pasco again.

In general, your neighborhood is safer when you have good schools. Kids are engaged and busy and preparing for the future -- not out in the streets causing trouble.

Yes, consider the cost when you vote on a levy.

We have personally chatted with the Kennewick, Richland and Pasco schools district representatives and will discuss that here. But a few things are standard with all school levies.

w They are a replacement tax, not a new tax.

w Voters approve a total amount and the rate fluctuates (usually within pennies) depending on assessed value of homes and new construction.

w The state provides levy equalization dollars to Mid-Columbia districts that pass their levies. This extra state money is not available when a levy fails.

This year is unusual when it comes to levies because some voters in the Mid-Columbia are mounting campaigns against the measure in Pasco and Richland, but for different reasons.

The Pasco opposition can be read in the online voters guide, where the con committee accuses the school district of operating on a bloated budget and encourages voters to demand levy rates closer to those of Kennewick and Richland districts.

It does not take into account that the tax base in Pasco is nowhere near that of Richland or Kennewick.

It is a shortsighted argument.

The opposition to the Richland levy borders on ridiculous and is being promulgated mostly on social media. An outspoken portion of the community is boycotting the levy because the district removed three concrete letters from school property.

The idea that adults would vote against a levy in retaliation is mind-boggling. It only hurts students. Besides, the district has already announced plans to replace the letters.

Here are the details on three of the levies in the Mid-Columbia.

Kennewick

Kennewick's last levy was approved at $3.48 per $1,000 of the home's assessed value. They are asking for a slightly smaller rate this time. The new levy would be $3.45 per $1,000 of the home's assessed value.

If you own a $200,000 home in the Kennewick District, your tax bill would be $58 a month. The two-year levy would bring in just under $24 million in 2015 and $24.5 million in 2016.

Pasco

The Pasco levy is asking the same rate that voters approved two years ago -- $4.51 on $1,000 of the home's assessed value. For a home valued at $200,000 the tax would be $75 a month.

The total levy amount is $21.7 million in 2015 and $22.2 million in 2016.

Richland

Richland also is proposing the same levy rate as two years ago -- $3.26 per $1,000 of the home's assessed value. For a $200,000 home in the Richland district, the tax would be $54 a month.

The levy is projected to bring in $22 million in 2015 and $23 million in 2016.

The Tri-City Herald recommends approving the school levies in Richland, Kennewick and Pasco and other school districts in the Mid-Columbia.

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