School “levy fix” passes after floor debate
Local school officials are poring over the numbers to see just how much financial relief state lawmakers delivered them with the passage of the state’s two-year budget late Sunday.
Olympia School District had projected a $8.5 million deficit for 2019-20 and was moving toward budget cuts, including to teacher positions. It said Monday it was better off based on an initial analysis.
“Because the budget has just passed, it will take a little time to get the detailed, specific impact on the Olympia School District. However, our initial analysis is that we believe the legislation will significantly reduce our projected $8.5 million deficit for the 2019-20 school year,” the district posted on its website.
While the district waits for more information, a district spokeswoman said the school board would not vote at its Monday night meeting on a plan to cut $4.68 million from next year’s budget. That plan was presented last week.
Among the good news in the state budget for school districts was the ability to collect more local levy dollars, an increase in special education funding and $58 million from the state’s rainy-day fund for districts hit particularly hard by changes made in response to the state Supreme Court’s McCleary ruling.
Those districts include Olympia and Tumwater, where officials had been projecting a $4 million deficit and looking at possible cuts.
“Over the next two days we will be calculating these legislative impacts for Tumwater as we revise our 2019-20 budget forecast,” Superintendent John Bash wrote in a message to district staff Monday. “This revised forecast will help us make final determinations regarding the need for a reduction in force and/or other budget reductions to balance the district’s 2019-20 budget.”
Tumwater’s school board was expected to hear about potential budget cuts at its May 9 meeting. A district spokeswoman said it is unclear if that will happen since those cuts may no longer be necessary.
Following the 2012 McCleary ruling that said it was the state’s responsibility to cover the cost of basic education, lawmakers put limits on how much districts could collect through local operating levies while increasing state K-12 funding.
Under the budget deal passed Sunday, the maximum levy that can be collected is the lesser of $2.50 per $1,000 of assessed value or $2,500 per pupil. That’s up from the lesser of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed valuation or $2,500 per pupil.
Districts with 40,000 students or more can collect more per student.
Supporters of the change — including local district leaders — say it is key to avoiding budget cuts starting in 2019-20, while opponents warn it will lead to inequities from district to district.
North Thurston Public Schools in Lacey, the largest district in Thurston County, was looking at the possibility of a deficit as high as $15 million next year.
“At first glance, we are generally pleased with the budget and grateful for the levy restoration which will help us close our budget gap for 2019-20,” Courtney Schrieve, the district’s executive director of public relations, said in a statement. “We have communicated with our staff and community that levy restoration would help us to avoid a reduction in programs or a reduction in force.”