Mid-Columbia voters already have started to receive ballots asking them to consider school levies district officials say are needed to continue providing money for school operations and maintenance.
Tri-City school districts and neighboring districts have expiring maintenance and operations levies. The levies, among other things, pay for teachers and building maintenance but also many co-curricular programs, such as art, music and coaches for athletics.
"They'd probably be the first to go if we didn't continue (the levy)," said Justin Raffa, chairman of the Richland Citizens for Good Schools committee.
Richland and Pasco are seeking more than $40 million each through 2014 with their levy renewals in the Feb. 14 election. Kennewick School District is seeking more than $45 million through the same period.
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The amounts are up slightly from the districts' previous levies, though district officials are quick to point out that the levies are not new taxes and are only replacing taxes that are expiring.
School districts in Washington increasingly have relied upon the levies, first used to fund extracurricular activities, such as the arts and athletics, as a means to provide basic educational instruction as state funding has fallen.
A simple majority of voters who return ballots is required to approve the levy renewals.
Kennewick School District is asking for approval of levies totaling $22 million in 2013 and $23.4 million in 2014.
Additionally, the district could receive up to $10 million per year in levy equalization funds from the state if voters renew the levy, said Superintendent Dave Bond. Levy equalization helps districts with low property values, though state lawmakers have discussed cutting that momey.
The estimated tax rate, which would be determined by the total assessed property value within the district those years, is projected at $3.38 per $1,000 in assessed property value in 2013 and increases to $3.48 in 2014. That would be $338 and $348 a year for a $100,000 home.
Bond said the rates would be higher than the present $3.28 rate in the district, but it's necessary to cope with declining state funding. The district has sought to cut costs by not hiring more teachers, despite increasing enrollment.
"We've come up with a number we think we can live with, but it's not without pain," said Lorraine Cooper, district spokeswoman.
Without the levy, Bond said the district would be unable to update curriculum and classroom technology as scheduled. Students would pay more to participate in sports and other activities, and class sizes would increase.
Raffa, of the Richland citizens committee, said "pretty much anything that happens before or after the school day" is paid for by the district's levy.
The district is asking for voters for $19.7 million in 2013 and $20.9 million in 2014, at an estimated levy rate of $3.14 per $1,000 assessed property value, or $314 a year for a $100,000 home.
The new rate would be 5 cents more than the present $3.09-per-$1,000 rate. Raffa said the increase was needed to soften the blow from state funding cuts and prepare for future cuts.
Raffa said Tri-City voters have been supportive of levies in the past, and he hopes to see that support continue. Approval of the levy also would provide up to $4.1 million in levy equalization funds to the district from the state.
More than half of the money collected through the levy in the Pasco School District goes toward basic school operations, such as salaries for teachers, nurses and counselors, according to material provided by the district.
Much of the rest of the levy pays for expenses such as student transportation, maintenance and school security.
The district seeks $20.1 million in 2013 and $20.3 million in 2014. If approved, the district would also be eligible for up to $12.4 million in levy equalization funds per year.
"It's our life blood," said Superintendent Saundra Hill. "It's a huge portion of our daily operations."
The estimated levy rate both years would be $4.51 per $1,000 in assessed property value, or $450 per year for a home assessed at $100,000. The rate is 4 cents lower than the present levy rate.
The district is seeking more money than it did when voters renewed the levy in 2010. The district collected $18.45 million in 2011 and is set to collect $19 million this year.
The district is seeking between $2.3 million and $2.5 million between 2013 and 2016 from its voters. The estimated levy rate is $4.64 per $1,000 in assessed property value.
Voters are being asked to approve levy amounts of $1.7 million in 2013 and $1.75 million in 2014. The estimated levy rate would be $4.32 per $1,000 in assessed property value in 2013 and $4.36 in 2014.
The district is asking voters to renew its levy at more than $3.4 million in both 2013 and 2014. The estimated levy rate is $3.39 per $1,000 in assessed property value.
The district is seeking a four-year replacement levy ranging between $203,596 and $222,475. The estimated levy rate is 54 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value.
District officials are seeking $1.85 million in 2013 and $1.9 million in 2014 from voters. The estimated levy rate would be $2.60 per $1,000 in assessed property value in 2013 and $2.64 in 2014.
The district's renewal levy would collect $2.5 million in 2013 and $2.6 million in 2014 if approved by voters. The estimated levy rate would be $2.47 per $1,000 in assessed property value in 2013 and $2.53 in 2014.
The district would collect $150,000 each in 2013 and 2014 if voters approve the renewal levy. The estimated levy rate would be $3.83 per $1,000 in assessed property value in 2013 and drop to $3.80 in 2014.
The district is seeking a four-year replacement levy starting at more than $10 million in 2013 and increasing to more than $11 million by 2016. The estimated levy rate would start at $3.64 per $1,000 in assessed property value in 2013 and increase to $3.81 by 2016.
Around the Mid-Columbia
Other districts running levies include Sunnyside, Mabton, Dayton, Waitsburg and Moses Lake.
The Moses Lake School District also is asking voters to approve a $115 million bond to build a new high school and two new elementary schools as well as modernizing Moses Lake High School, buy land, upgrade technology and improve health, safety and security, educational and athletic offerings at district schools.