Evergreen and Vancouver school districts approve levy proposals for February ballot

Evergreen’s request will include a first-ever technology levy, as local funding is capped under new state law

VANCOUVER — With most school districts in Washington state facing an impending cap on how much they can receive through local levies, many voters will likely see multiple levies on the ballot come February.

Both Evergreen and Vancouver school districts have announced they will put both a Maintenance and Operations (M&O) levy in front of voters, as well as a technology levy. For Evergreen, it will be the first time a technology levy will be put in front of voters.

Evergreen teachers stand outside Union High School during the recent strike over pay. Image courtesy Evergreen Education Association
Evergreen teachers stand outside Union High School during the recent strike over pay. Image courtesy Evergreen Education Association

“We have tried to run our technology initiative without doing that,” says Mike Merlino, Evergreen’s Chief Operating Officer, “but when they changed the rules and capped the rate at $1.50, it just wasn’t something that we were going to be able to continue to do without looking at a technology levy.”

As part of the funding package approved earlier this year, which satisfied the long-running McCleary mandate from the state Supreme Court, the legislature increased statewide property taxes, and capped what local districts could charge. For most districts that cap came to $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value.

“Used to be that we had the ability to run a levy up to 28 percent of our state and Federal revenues from the year before,” says Merlino. “The $1.50 in 2019 will generate right around $27.2 million. The voters had authorized, I think it was, around $54 million dollars.”

“Evergreen continues to efficiently and effectively spend the levy dollars authorized by our voters,” said school board President Todd Yuzuriha in a release from the district. “We have one of the lowest administrative and central office costs in the state and among peer districts. We continue to ensure the money is spent on programs and supports that have direct student impact which has led to our higher graduation rates.”

Evergreen’s proposal would include a renewed M&O levy at the maximum $1.50 rate, with the technology levy at $0.37 per $1,000. The combined rate would still be lower than the existing M&O levy, which was $3.23 per $1,000 of assessed value.

“Ultimately, between levy and levy equalization in 2019 we’re estimating it’ll be around $39 million,” Merlino says. “And in 2019 we probably would have been somewhere around $70 million instead of that $39 million (before the levy swap).”

Voters in the Evergreen School District recently approved a $695 million capital facilities bond to replace, rebuild and repair all schools in the district, plus build an additional elementary school.

Vancouver Schools will also be asking voters to renew a local operations levy, as well as a technology levy that was first passed in 2013. In total, the levies would amount to $1.81 per $1,000 of assessed value, or $604.54 per year on a median-priced home worth $334,000.

At the capped amount, local levy dollars make up about 12 percent of the district’s general fund budget. The education and operations levy pays for classroom supplies, textbooks and equipment; school safety and security; maintenance of buildings and grounds; teachers and support staff; classroom programs; extended day/year learning; education for students with special needs; extracurricular activities and intramural sports; and utilities, insurance and fuel.

If approved, the Vancouver M&O levy would provide an estimated $147.7 million in funding between 2020 and 2023, while the technology levy would provide approximately $48.9 million between 2020 and 2025.

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