Kennewick schools set levy requests

The Kennewick School District will be asking voters to raise their current property tax rate Feb. 14 to stave off severe cuts in classrooms in the face of declining state budgets.

The school board Wednesday unanimously adopted the recommendations of district staff for an operations levy of $22 million in 2013 and $23.4 million in 2014.

School districts only set levy amounts, not rates. According to current estimates for the total assessed value of all real estate within district boundaries, the tax rate in 2013 would be $3.38 per $1,000 of assessed property value, or $338 for a $100,000 home.

In 2014, the tax rate would rise to $3.48 per $1,000, or $348 for a $100,000 home.

Ballots will be mailed out around Jan. 26.

Under the levy measure approved in 2010, which expires at the end of 2012, Kennewick schools will get $20.6 million from property taxes next year.

Next year's property tax rate will be $3.28 per $1,000, or $328 for a $100,000 home.

The operations levy is a separate tax from a bond levy, which is used to build schools. Operations levies pay for running schools -- fuel for buses, salaries for substitute teachers and other regular expenses.

The levy resolution was adopted without discussion among board members, two of whom -- Ron Mabry and Ben Messinger -- sat on the board for their first-ever meeting Wednesday.

Because the Legislature has not yet decided how to close a projected $2 billion budget shortfall, districts had to use some guesswork to decide on levy amounts.

For the purposes of setting an amount, Kennewick assumed it would lose about $2.6 million in levy equalization money from the state, which goes to districts with comparatively low property values, said Business Manager Vic Roberts.

It also stood to lose about $700,000 this year from student enrollment that came in below projections, which will result in less money from the state, Roberts said. Other budget cuts proposed in Olympia would take away more money.

In all, the district likely will run a $3.7 million deficit in the 2012-13 school year without revenue increases, Roberts said.

That $3.7 million deficit would result after already factoring in several cuts, including $600,000 gained through proposed staff reductions next school year.

Increasing the property tax levy in 2013-14 by the proposed amount would bring the deficit to $2.4 million, which could then be covered out of district reserves, Roberts said.

"It's going to be a tough couple of years," he told the board.