School officials working out impacts of state budget

Washington state governor Jay Inslee signs a two-year operating budget into law July 1. Photos courtesy of TVW.

By Oliver Lazenby

Blaine school district officials are still sorting out how the state’s new education funding plan, signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee on July 1, will affect Blaine schools.

The plan gives $7.3 billion more toward public schools over the next four years. The new funding is aimed at fulfilling a 2012 state Supreme Court ruling, called the McCleary decision, that ruled the state wasn’t fully funding K-12 education. The ruling sought more state funding for school districts to make them less reliant on local property tax levies, especially for teacher salaries.

But that doesn’t mean Blaine taxpayers will get a break. While the new funding lowers the amount that districts can levy, it also raises property taxes in many school districts, including the Blaine school district.

Blaine property owners will pay $180 more in 2018, and $200 more annually by 2021 for a median priced home, according to an analysis by the state Office of Program Research.

That’s modest compared to the more expensive districts in the state: Mercer Island residents will see an annual increase of $970 for a median-price home. Nine districts will face median property tax increases of $400 or more annually, while many districts will see property tax decreases. The goal is to make school district funding across the state more equitable, lawmakers said.

From that pot, the state will give the Blaine school district $5.5 million annually in new funding by the 2020-21 school year. The district is grappling with many details of how they can use that money, but most significant changes won’t go into effect until in the 2018-19 school year, Blaine school district superintendent Ron Spanjer said.

“Many of the specifics have yet to be fully articulated, especially as these details pertain to staff compensation structures,” Spanjer said in an email.

The way teachers get paid is one of the more significant changes in the new funding. It does away with a funding formula that allocates money to schools based on teacher’s education level, a scheme that some analysts say attributes to inequality in schools.

Starting in 2018-19, beginning teachers will make at least $40,000 and teacher pay is capped at a maximum of $90,000, although districts could potentially pay more in areas with higher housing costs and for educators who teach certain hard-to-fill subjects.

It’s also still unknown whether the state’s new funding plan will actually fulfill the state Supreme Court’s stipulations in the McCleary decision, though lawmakers believe it will.

“This is a historic budget that I believe fully funds our schools for the first time in decades and will meet our constitutional obligations,” Inslee said in a press release.

The Blaine school district will have a draft of its 2017-18 budget available next week and it will hold a public hearing at its board meeting on July 24.

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