With the passage of a local school levy resolution last week by the NGRVSD Board of Directors, the Observer invited School Superintendent Lisa Nelson to participate in a short question and answer session. Below is a summary of that session. This is considered the first in a series of articles on the subject that will be covered in greater depth as the February 2018 ballot draws nearer.
Question: If the current levy doesn’t expire until the end of next year, why did the school district’s Board of Directors recently adopt a resolution for a new educational programs and operations levy?
Response: The current three-year levy is collected in calendar years 2016, 2017 and 2018. In order for a replacement levy to actually be approved and provide money to the district in 2019 and beyond, it has to receive voter approval in early 2018. The county guidelines require a levy resolution to be adopted by the board and submitted to the county by December 15 for the proposed levy to be placed on the February 2018 ballot.
Question: Historically speaking, what is the purpose of a local school district levy? What will the money from the proposed levy support?
Response: We have had a school levy in place since 1965. The purpose of local school levies is for home owners and land owners in each school district to have the power to enhance their schools beyond just the basic classroom. Levy money in the past has been used to support sports and other enrichment activities such as band, drama, psychology, online learning and advanced math, just to name a few. A renewed levy will continue that support. In short, the local school levy helps to fund everything other than the minimum basic classes necessary to earn a diploma.
Question: Why is the proposed levy amount less than that of the current levy?
Response: As a part of their approach to meet their constitutional obligation to fully fund basic education, the state legislature established a ceiling of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property valuation. The local school levy currently in effect has a tax rate of roughly $3.00 per $1,000 of assessed property valuation and, as a result, collected a larger sum than the new ceiling will allow in the future.
Question: Why did the state legislature put a new lower limit on the tax rate for school levies?
Response: That’s a good question and one that a growing number of voices will be asking the legislature during the next session. Their mandate is to fully fund basic education. Why then would they put a limit on the ability of taxpayers to enhance their schools beyond just basic education? Since a major portion of their solution to funding basic education will come from the state taking a larger portion of property tax money, they may have felt they were helping the tax payer by reducing the amount that school districts could collect for enhanced educational opportunities. There has been much discussion among school districts, superintendents, and fiscal analysts across the state; most resulting in the conclusion that the legislature did not solve the dilemma of properly funding education. Many schools stand to lose revenue under the new laws and we are one of them. Specifically, for us, it looks to be approximately $500,000 over the next three years, even if the local levy passes.
Question: You have indicated the proposed levy tax rate will generate $450,000. Is that true for each of the three years? Response: No, not necessarily. Since this is a three-year levy proposal, we had to estimate a growth rate in total property valuation. Based on that growth rate, it appeared the $1.50/$1,000 assessed valuation could bring in as much as $450,000 by 2021. State law requires the board resolution to indicate a single approximate amount that the proposed levy would collect each year. In reality, the $1.50/$1,000 tax rate will be what determines how much the levy will collect and if assessed value does not increase approximately 7.5% than the actual collection will be less than $450,000.
Question: As the school district’s senior administrator, do you believe the adoption of this educational programs and operations levy is critical to the operation of the school? If so, why?
Response: (Laughs) Now, when you say ‘senior’ does that imply you think I am getting old? Yes, one hundred percent, the levy is critical to the operation of the school. Programming and opportunities for kids would be severely impacted otherwise. Levies are an important part of a community’s opportunity to voice their support for school expenditures or the contrary. For most, support of levies represents a pattern of doing business that the taxpayers have come to expect. For example, we are proud of our programs and facilities. Levy dollars allow us to continue with the same level of service and maintenance.