Tri-City school districts face uncertainty in setting their operations levy amounts -- they do not know how much the Legislature will cut their budgets in a special session that starts Nov. 28.
Yet to get their levy measures on the Feb. 14 ballot, districts need to file their resolutions by the end of the year.
All three Tri-City districts are running replacement levy measures in February. The money raised from property taxes makes up 10 to 20 percent of each district's operating budget.
The operations levy pays for teacher's aides, textbooks, fuel for buses, utility bills and other costs to keep schools functioning.
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The levy measures voted on in February will provide money for 2013-14.
Next year's levy already was passed in a 2010 election.
The Kennewick and Pasco school boards this week approved levy amounts, but reserved the right to increase them in December, should the Legislature decide on drastic cuts. The Richland School Board decided this week not set an amount until December.
Gov. Chris Gregoire this week released a list of budget cutting options for legislators to consider during the special session that starts Nov. 28. The list includes deep cuts in education.
It once again eyes levy equalization money, which supports districts with comparatively low property values.
This would take millions of dollars out of Tri-City district coffers, likely triggering deep cuts in staff and programs, local school officials have said.
For now though, Kennewick and Pasco have agreed on levy rates that assume levy equalization money -- which has survived previous threats of cuts -- will continue, at least to some degree.
The Kennewick School Board on Wednesday voted in favor of asking for a levy of about $21 million each year in 2013-14.
School districts do not set tax rates; they ask for a set total amount and then estimate the tax rate required to raise that amount. Those estimated rates historically have been higher than the actual rate charged to homeowners because districts underestimate how much property values rise to be on the safe side in their calculations.
The county auditor sets the final rate according to the assessed value of all property in school district boundaries.
Kennewick will run its levy campaign with an estimated rate of $3.28 per $1,000 of assessed property value for 2013, or $328 for a $100,000 home. That rate is flat to the 2012 rate.
It would increase to $3.38 per $1,000 of assessed property value -- or $338 for a $100,000 home -- in 2014.
Even after planned district budget cuts of about $1.3 million, that levy rate would still leave the district with a projected deficit of $2.8 million for the 2012-13 school year, Business Manager Vic Roberts told the board Wednesday.
The Pasco School District will be asking to get about $20 million each year in 2013-14.
To get that total amount, it estimates a levy rate of $4.51 per $1,000 of assessed property value, or $451 for a $100,000 home, for both 2013 and 2014.
That's a decrease from the estimated rate for 2012, which is $4.55 per $1,000 of assessed property value.
Once the levy amount is set, it doesn't change as more people move into the fast-growing district, said Director of Fiscal Services Howard Roberts.
The district does not get more money from the additional homes built, but each homeowner's tax rate decreases, he said.
Pasco also will delay finalizing its levy proposal until it can estimate the effect of state budget cuts.