Passing school levies is one of the essential obligations of citizenship in Washington state, where we treasure high-quality local education but seem unable to come up with a statewide strategy that gives the same opportunities to all our children.
With the major exception of Naselle-Grays River Valley, nearly all Pacific County school districts are asking residents to renew a variety of local levies in mail-in balloting that ends at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 11. We all should take a minute to vote yes in our respective districts and drop post-paid envelopes in the mail.
Levies proposed by Ocean Beach, Raymond, South Bend, Willapa Valley — and the Ocosta and Pe Ell that serve small, bordering areas of the county — are all replacements for existing voluntary taxes that would otherwise expire. Levies typically last four years between re-authorizations by voters. They require a simple majority of 50% plus 1 vote to pass. (This is in contrast with school-construction bonds, which require a 60% super-majority.)
All the districts seek renewal of the main type of levy: “Enrichment levies, also known as Educational Programs and Services (EP&O) and Maintenance and Operations (M&O levies), allow a school district to provide things like teachers, support staff, supplies and materials, or services that the state only partially funds. Funding provided by the state does not fully cover the actual costs to operate a school district, so enrichment levies bridge the gap in funding,” according to Educational Service District 112, which oversees Southwest Washington.
In addition, Ocean Beach is renewing its technology levy, which ensures that every student has access to grade-appropriate computers, software, support staff and security.
Despite the long, hard-fought state Supreme Court McCleary case that many citizens thought was supposed to eliminate the need for local levies, they remain essential to pay for a whole host of things most of us consider to be intrinsic to the K-12 educational experience — everything from prep sports to school nurses, and even some teaching staff. After McCleary, the state funds 71% of Ocean Beach’s budget — not dramatically different than it did before the Legislature’s efforts to answer the Supreme Court’s mandates. Local voters pay for 23% of Ocean Beach’s needs, and the federal government via national taxation/borrowing pays for 6%.
While harboring some irritation that full funding for K-12 education apparently means something different in Olympia than it does in Pacific County, local levies clearly allow local voters and the school boards we elect to enact budgets reflective of many of our own priorities. We all must continue supporting them for as long as they are needed.
Thanks to rising property values — that are slowly factored into how much money levies generate — and new construction, levy amounts in the beach district have trended downward, to $1.37 per $1,000 in assessed valuation in the four fiscal years of the proposal through 2023. This is around 60 cents less per $1,000 than as recently as 2016. The technology levy starts at 29 cents per $1,000 in fiscal 2020 and then ticks up to 30 cents in the remains three years. This all appears reasonably conservative. So, once again, as we have for decades, it’s time to say yes to school levies and yes to a positive future for all Pacific County kids.