YAKIMA -- Yakima School District officials are asking the city's voters to put more money into the district by increasing the local maintenance and operations levy.
The proposal on the Feb. 14 ballot is to collect almost $54.2 million from 2013-16. The levy is an 8.4 percent increase over the one that voters passed in 2008.
With more than 14,500 students, Yakima is by far the largest district in the area. And its levy is by far the largest on ballot. West Valley School District's $16.8 million two-year levy is a distant second.
The increase is necessary to pay for basic instruction, Superintendent Elaine Beraza said. "There are no extras on our plate."
Without the levy, which makes up about 8 percent of the district's general fund budget, important programs would have to be scaled back.
The money from the levy would go to transportation, teacher training, school safety, special education, athletics and other areas, Beraza said.
"There's no way we get enough money (from the state) to fund special education," she said.
School districts are required by the federal government to provide special education for students needing it from birth to 21 years old.
Assistant Superintendent Jack Irion doesn't have to think back too far to remember when the Yakima School District did have to make drastic cutbacks.
In 1998, the district failed to pass a levy, which also disqualified it from levy equalization assistance, state money used to close the gap between property-rich and property-poor districts. Yakima schools had $12 million less than officials had expected.
The district cut wherever it could to close the gap. The impact was felt in the district's sports and music offerings, among others. With less after-school opportunities, Irion said, gang activities picked up.
Four years ago, the district's levy passed easily with 60.6 percent of the vote. Passing a levy only requires a simple majority.
Nonetheless, the memory of 1998 still makes Irion uneasy before levy elections.
"You always get nervous. Why wouldn't you? It's too important," he said.
District officials said they haven't heard much opposition to the levy.
Nonetheless, they say they kept the projected tax rate under $3 because of tight economic times. That would be a reduction from the 2012 levy rate of $3.07. The school district is asking for less money in the first year of the levy compared to 2012. But overall, the amount to be raised over four years is an increase.