Q: Didn’t the McCleary court decision eliminate the need for school levies?
A: In January 2012, the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the state is violating the constitutional rights of children by failing to live up to its paramount duty to amply fund the education of all K-12 students. The court ordered the Legislature to make steady, real and measurable progress each year toward that goal, and to fully fund K-12 public education by 2018.
Even though the Legislature has been held in contempt of court for not making adequate progress, lawmakers haven’t yet come up with a plan to fully funded basic education as outlined in the McCleary decision. Until they do, local property tax levies fill the gap between current state funding and a school district’s operating costs.
Q: What types of programs are funded by local levies?
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A: It varies by school district. In the Rainier School District, levy dollars pay for 28 percent of custodial and maintenance costs, 13 percent of utilities, 14 percent of food services, 9 percent of transportation, 27 percent of the district’s counselor costs, 7 percent of administrative costs, 95 percent of extracurricular programs, 7 percent of special education, 36 percent of remediation programs, 13 percent of teachers, 34 percent of classified staff members and 100 percent of the district’s athletic programs.
Q: What happens if a levy fails?
A: School districts often run a measure again if it’s close. But if a levy fails twice, it would mean immediate cuts, officials say.
“We would definitely lose teaching staff,” said Kim Fry, superintendent of the Rochester School District, which is running a four-year, $16.3 million levy.
Right now, the district uses levy funding to help pay for lower class sizes in grades 5-12 and specialty programs such as K-8 art and music programs and gifted education.
“Just over 15 percent of our budget is levy dependent,” Fry said.
Q: Are some people exempt from paying school district property tax levies?
A: Yes. Some senior, veteran and disabled homeowners with an income of $40,000 or less may be eligible for a full or partial exemption. For more information, call the Thurston County Assessor’s Office at 360-867-2200 or go to co.thurston.wa.us/assessor/.