While the campaign talk this month has centered around state and county initiatives, as well as local races for mayor and city council, a handful of area school boards have been discussing an election that will not take place until next year.
On Monday night, the Central Valley School District board of directors finalized the numbers on a three-year programs and operations replacement levy that will run on the Feb. 14, 2012 ballot. The $27.1 million total breaks down to an estimated $4.19 per $1,000 of assessed property value with the cost remaining constant over the three-year period.
“These are funds that are essential for our district,” said CVSD spokeswoman Melanie Rose. “It would be devastating if it didn’t pass.”
Levy dollars go toward a variety of budget items, from textbooks to transportation. The list also includes staff salaries, special education, utilities, technology and extracurricular programs like sports and music. This academic year in Central Valley, the levy represents 22 percent of the budget, or $24 million.
The CV board initially approved the three-year levy duration and February date at its meeting on Oct. 10. The $27.1 million also includes a protection against a possible loss of state matching – or levy equalization – funds. In previous years, the district has been able to roll back the cost of the levy to residents based on state dollars and/or an increase in property value.
While CV has made it official, other local districts are leaning toward a run on the Feb. 14 ballot. The Freeman school board discussed the details of its maintenance and operations levy at a meeting on Thursday (after presstime) and West Valley is still debating the inclusion of a replacement technology initiative along with its regular levy in February, according to district spokeswoman Sue Shields.
Meanwhile in East Valley, Superintendent John Glenewinkel said the board should have a decision “before Thanksgiving” on the date, cost and duration of its levy. Glenewinkel said last week that he is “99-percent sure” the levy total will include a levy equalization cushion.
Freeman, Central, East and West Valley school districts all ran in the Feb. 3, 2009, elections with each passing replacement levies. West Valley also passed a technology capital projects levy that year by 62 percent while East Valley’s capital improvement and school construction bond garnered only 52 percent of the required 60-percent supermajority.
School districts across the state earned a victory in the November 2007 general election when House Resolution 4204 emerged with a narrow win (50.27 to 49.73 percent) signaling a change in the way future levy elections would be determined. Beginning in 2008, levy initiatives would require only a simple majority – or any margin above 50 percent – instead of the prior 60-percent supermajority.
In 2009, only East Valley (58 percent) emerged with a ballot count lower than the previous required level.
Districts have until Dec. 30 to file their intentions with the Spokane County Elections Office. Running alone on a ballot cost a district a little over $1 per voter, according to Mike McLaughlin of the elections office. More districts (and issues) in an election disperses the cost, McLaughlin said. With around 43,000 voters in 2009, CV paid just under $29,000. West Valley, with just over 11,000 voters, paid just short of $9,000.
Shields said levy funds currently comprise 20 percent of the West Valley budget. She added that the district works to emphasize the “replacement” aspect of the levy, clarifying that it does not represent a new tax. Low-income seniors and disabled residents can also qualify for reductions to the tax.
“We hope we communicate how critical it is,” Shield said. “If the levy didn’t pass, it would be very detrimental.”
The last time Central Valley failed to pass a levy was 1980. The district ran and won on a subsequent ballot, but layoffs did occur as a result of the original vote.
Rose said the district will have information about the latest levy in the November newsletter. The district’s official brochure – outlining levy facts – will go out to residents in January.
“Voters are busy people,” Rose said. “I think (the levy) is something we need to remind them about. We’re hopeful that the community will see the value and the critical importance of this levy. It really is basic funding.”