School district sends replacement levy to voters

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Though the state legislature met its Supreme Court-ordered obligation to fully fund basic education for public schools, the Blaine school district will ask voters to renew a four-year maintenance and operations levy to cover about 15 percent of the district’s day-to-day expenses.   

The school district board of directors voted unanimously at a November 25 meeting to put a replacement property tax levy on a February 11, 2020 special election ballot. The four-year levy will replace one that expires at the end of 2020.

Taxpayers would pay less for the replacement levy than the current levy. Currently, property owners in the Blaine school district pay about $1.39 per $1,000 of assessed value annually for the maintenance and operations levy. The replacement levy would tax voters at approximately $1.26 per $1,000 in assessed value in 2021, and rise to $1.30 per $1,000 by 2024.

School district superintendent Christopher Granger said the average maintenance and operations levy for school districts in Whatcom County is $1.49 per $1,000 in assessed value.

Levy rates are approximate and depend on the assessed value of all property in the district in the coming years. According to meeting documents, the replacement levy would bring in $6 million in 2021, $6.4 million in 2022, $6.8 million in 2023, and $7.25 million in 2024. 

The district would use the money to “support the district’s educational maintenance and daily operations, including teachers, staff, classroom materials and textbooks,” according to a resolution the school board passed on November 25.

“We just want the community to know that we do appreciate their continued support of the district because without this, some of the things the community is used to seeing in our schools would be impacted,” Granger said in a phone interview.

The Blaine school district also collects a six-year “technology and capital projects levy” that voters passed in 2018. That levy collected about $0.51 per $1,000 in assessed value this year.

In 2017, state lawmakers passed a new education funding plan that increased state funding and limited the amount that school districts could levy for basic education. With the plan, lawmakers intended to make school funding more equitable across the state.

The plan reduced the amount that the Blaine school district could levy for maintenance and operations by about $2 million, while also raising the amount local taxpayers pay to the state for education.

From those state education taxes, the Blaine school district is getting about $5.24 million annually, Granger said. So while the district has more money, the state funding came with some stipulations that increased operating costs, such as higher starting teacher salaries. The bulk of the extra revenue is going toward salaries.

Also, the state’s formula for fully funding basic education doesn’t always work in practice, said Lisa Moeller, the district’s new public relations specialist. “They say it’s fully-funded, but it’s based on their model, which has some big gaps.” For example, Moeller said, the state’s formula gives the district funding for 0.057 school psychologists for the entire district.

Not only is it difficult to hire 0.057 of a school psychologist, it’s also not enough to meet the district’s needs, Moeller said.

“That’s a good example of the way the state’s funding formula leaves some gaps for us,” she said.

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