The White Salmon Valley School District Board of Directors is preparing to ask local voters to increase the amount raised by an enrichment levy for the next three school years.
The School Board approved the replacement enrichment levy’s placement on the ballot for the Feb. 11 special election during a Nov. 21 board meeting.
Recent legislation has allowed the School District to levy a local property tax of up to a maximum of $2.50 per $1,000 of assessed value. Dr. Jerry Lewis, Superintendent for White Salmon Valley Schools, said the district would not bring the maximum allowable levy amount to a vote, and that the levy rate will decrease yearly.
The three-year long levy would start in the 2020-2021 school year at a rate of $2.22 per $1,000 of assessed value and decrease yearly to $2.19 per $1,000 in the school year after and further drop to $2.16 per $1,000 of assessed value starting in the 2022-2023 school year.
The money raised by the proposed levy would fund expenditures that are not supported fully by the state. While the state picked up the tab on much of the staffing and transportation expenditures, the replacement enrichment levy would go toward costs that the state does not cover.
The board voted on Oct. 30 during a special board meeting to submit the proposal to raise the levy amount to Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). School districts require pre-authorization from OSPI to propose a levy to voters in accordance with recent legislation.
The proposed levy lid lift comes amid turbulent times for the district and the state’s K-12 finances. The White Salmon Valley School District is facing a$1.2 million shortfall after the state restricted the district’s levying power to $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value for the 2019 tax year.
“The survival, the sustainability of our budget, depends on passing that levy,” said Lewis during an Oct. 24 board meeting.
The financial problems date back further to what is now known as the McCleary decision, in which the Wa-shington State Supreme Court in 2012 ruled the state was not adequately funding K-12 expenditures, namely staff salaries.
The court further ruled that such expenses were the state’s responsibility, leading lawmakers and state officials to begin the process of pouring billions of dollars into the state’s education system.
Historically across the state, local taxes and levies had funded much of those expenditures, but as part of a complex law aimed at reforming property taxes, lawmakers in 2017 restricted the levying power school districts had in their communities and increased the state’s tax rate.
A later change by lawmakers then allowed school districts with less than 40,000 students enrolled full time to increase their levy bid to up to $2.50 per $1,000 of assessed value.
Lewis is also working with the ESD 112 communications department to form a narrative and factsheet for voters in the coming weeks. The district is due to file with Skamania and Klickitat County auditors by the Dec. 15 deadline for submission of the proposal into the Feb. 11 election.
The Goldendale School District will also be asking residents to increase their property taxes over four years in the Feb. 11 election, starting at $2.31 per $1,000 of assessed value in 2021 and ending with $2.46 per $1,000 of assessed value in 2024.
The proposed changes to the school’s levying power is subject to voter approval and will find a spot on the ballot for the Feb. 11 special election, pending the district’s submission of the proposal to Klickitat and Skamania counties.