The district is asking voters to help close a $10 million budget shortfall with additional local funding
VANCOUVER — Voters inside Vancouver School District will be asked to approve a supplemental local levy amount in February.
The Vancouver Public Schools Board of Directors voted unanimously Monday night to send a three-year supplemental levy to voters on the Feb. 11, 2020 special election ballot.
“Vancouver School District’s current Education and Operations Levy, when combined with other general fund revenues, is not projected to be sufficient to sustain current levels,” said District Superintendent Steve Webb.
When the legislature approved the McCleary-mandated basic education funding fix in 2017, it capped local levy rates at $1.50 per thousand. During this year’s legislative session, that lid was raised to a maximum of $2.50 per thousand, but any district that had already approved new levies at the lower rate needs to get voter approval.
Last February, voters in Vancouver easily approved a replacement Education and Operations Levy at the $1.50 per thousand rate, and a replacement technology levy of $0.31 per thousand.
The supplemental levy amounts, if approved, would be $0.43 per $1,000 of assessed property value in 2021, $0.41 in 2022, and $0.41 in 2023. That would raise an estimated $10 million in 2021, $10.4 million in 2022, and $10.9 million in 2023.
“This supplemental levy would return the projected 2021 total school tax rate, both state and local, to the pre-McCleary 2017 baseline rate of $6.45,” noted Superintendent Steve Webb, adding that the rates in 2022 and 2023 would actually be slightly lower than the pre-McCleary total tax rate for the district.
Facing a $14.3 million budget shortfall earlier this year, the district used $3.8 million in one-time funding from its ending fund balance, along with nearly $6.5 million in levy equalization funding secured by 49th District Sen. Annette Cleveland (D-Vancouver), to help stave off cuts to programs and teaching staff.
Webb noted the supplemental levy, if approved, would help to backfill that hole going forward.
“We have a commitment, regardless of persistent gaps in state funding, to provide the programs and supports for students that the Vancouver community expects from its public schools,” said Webb in a release from the district. “If approved, this levy would sustain those services, as well as help pay for smaller class sizes and continue our work toward boosting our four-year graduation rate, which at 85 percent already exceeds the state average. It also would pay for positions such as counselors, school psychologists, nurses and security staff that provide mission-critical support for students in our schools.”
The district began looking into a supplemental levy last May, following the legislature’s move to raise the levy lid. The board heard several options at a work session in June, and settled on the mid-tier option that, they believed, covered only what the district needed.
“I think it’s important that we ask for what we need,” added Board Member Rosemary Fryer. “And I think, by showing our taxpayers and our citizens that we are going to be as frugal as we can be, and ask what we need to ask for but not ask for more, we want to make sure that that gratitude is expressed to our community.”
“If this doesn’t get through and is approved then we’re going to have staff reductions,” said outgoing Board Member Dale Rice, who lost his re-election bid this month to Kyle Sproul. “It’s unfortunate, but that’s what happens when you have a budget with 85 cents of every dollar being human costs.”
At their work session in June, several of the board members said they are concerned about tax fatigue amongst voters. Before Monday’s vote, Board President Mark Stoker said nothing that happened this month eased his fears about that.
“I think we’ve seen that in the results of the Camas pool bond, we’ve seen that with the car (tabs) initiative statewide,” said Stoker. “So, for me, it’s important to have the levy be the minimal amount we need to backfill the hole left by the McCleary solutions, and I think that’s what this $10 million amount does.”
In its release, the district noted that total tax collections, even with the supplemental levy, should remain near pre-McCleary levels.
- Locally collected school taxes (not including supplemental levy): $3.20
- Supplemental education and operations levy rate: 43 cents
- State-collected school taxes: $2.82
- Total projected school tax rate: $6.45
- 2017 pre-McCleary local levy cap tax rate: $6.45
- Net tax increase over 2017 pre-McCleary rate: $0
“Asking voters to approve a new tax measure is a request that Vancouver Public Schools takes very seriously,” said Stoker in the district’s news release. “The Vancouver community has demonstrated its support for children and public schools in many ways, including ongoing support for bonds and levies. We are grateful for this support and take seriously our obligation to handle taxpayer dollars responsibly.”