Editorials

Levies crucial to success of Mid-Columbia children

By the Herald editorial staff

In these tough economic times, schools need your support more than ever.

As lawmakers try to balance the state's budget, school districts around the state are holding their collective breath over potential funding cuts.

Uncertainty over state funding has made planning particularly challenging for Mid-Columbia school districts as they ask voters to approve maintenance and operation levies Feb. 9.

In every case, the levy isn't a new tax but a replacement for an existing assessment. Mid-Columbia schools depend on their levies for about 20 percent of their budgets, so renewal is critical.

The money pays for programs that most voters would consider essential, from athletics to academics. That's especially true this year.

Gov. Chris Gregoire's initial budget eliminated the state's levy equalization fund for less-affluent school districts. Every district in the Mid-Columbia depends on that money.

No one thinks the final spending package will include cuts that drastic, but schools are resigned to taking a hit as the state wrestles with a $2.6 billion deficit.

Levy equalization balances the finances of poor districts with more-affluent ones in an attempt to give every child in the state an equal shot at a quality education.

Of the 295 districts in the state, 220 receive levy equalization money.

The amount varies from district to district, but it is significant and helps pay for a range of services.

School districts large and small have already been tightening their belts and streamlining staffing as the state's financial picture dimmed over the past year.

Beyond levy equalization, the districts face other uncertainties as they put forth their levies: the possibility of state-mandated pay raises to make up for deferred cost-of-living increases for teachers, the sunset of federal funding that assisted with special education and other high-cost programs and increasing enrollments in an era of decreasing resources.

The levies our voters face in February run the gamut, from the extremely conservative in North Franklin to the financially prudent in Richland to the fiscally forward-thinking in Pasco.

The circumstances of each district are specific, and we believe they've all done their homework and taken the pulse of their voters into account in these trying times.

Ballots arrive in the mail this week. Please vote yes.

There's no better investment we can make than in education.

Kennewick School District

Kennewick's proposed levy would collect $19.3 million in 2011 at an estimated rate of $3.24 per $1,000 of assessed property value, or $54 a month for a $200,000 home. In 2012, the proposed levy would collect $20.6 million at an estimated rate of $3.34 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Pasco School District

The Pasco levy would collect $18.45 million in 2011 and $19 million in 2012. That's an increase over the current levy, which collected $15.9 million in 2009 and is collecting $16.4 million this year.

The increase reflects Pasco's growing pains. The district added two new schools this year and nearly 5,600 students in the past decade.

The estimated tax rate for the proposed levy is $4.55 per $1,000 of assessed property value, or about $38 a month for a $100,000 home.

Richland School District

The Richland levy would collect $17.32 million in 2011 and $18.35 million in 2012. The estimated rate of $2.95 per $1,000 of assessed property value comes to about $49 a month on a $200,000 house.

Finley School District

The Finley levy would collect $1.4 million in 2011 at an estimated rate of $3.76 per $1,000 of assessed property value. In 2012, the levy would collect $1.45 million at an estimated $3.78 per $1,000, or about $31.50 per month on a $100,000 house.

North Franklin School District

The levy would collect $1.7 million in 2011 at an estimated rate of $2.56 per $1,000 of assessed property value, or $21.33 per month for a $100,000 home. In 2012, the levy would collect $1.75 million.

Prosser School District

The Prosser levy would collect $3,368,291 in 2011 at an estimated rate of $3.27 per $1,000 of assessed property value. That's $27.25 a month for a $100,000 home. In 2012, the proposed levy would collect $3,469,339.

Kiona-Benton School District

The Kiona-Benton levy would collect $2,146,205 in 2011 and $2,274,977 in 2012. The estimated rate for both years is $4.64 per $1,000 of assessed property value, or $38.66 per month for a $100,000 house.

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