Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The school levies that didn't pass

Posted By on Wed, Feb 15, 2012 at 4:54 PM

Nowadays, with a mere 50 percent threshold to pass to pass a levy, it’s a pretty safe bet that major districts will pass their levies, despite well-funded opposition. Last night, ballot returns indicated that the bigger districts in Spokane County —Spokane, Mead, Central Valley,  East Valley and West Valley — were all passing their levy.

But levies can be trickier for smaller districts, where lower property values mean larger tax rates to raise the same percentage of money. While many ballots are left to be counted, the preliminary count showed levies for Deer Park (with 53 percent "no" votes) and the Riverside school district (63 percent "no" votes) are both failing.

Deer Park Superintendent Becky Cooke says she isn’t quite sure why the levy failed.

“That’s what we’re trying to listen and find out,” Cooke says. “We had over 24 information meetings. I do know that Stevens County has struggled with increased property assessments.”

Indeed, Deer Park voters who live in Spokane County were split at about 50-50. But in Stevens County, Deer Park voters were clearly opposed — with 58 percent of the vote.

This happened despite Deer Park having one of the lowest levy rates in the area, Cooke says.

“This levy amount meant we would still have to make cuts,” she says. “It didn’t even consider increasing costs in utilities and insurance.”

For Deer Park to get levy-equalization money — which is the state funding poorer  districts receive — they would have had to pass their levy. That means that until a levy in Deer Park passes, the school has to cut about 20 percent of its funding. Look at it in terms of funding it can cut, which doesn’t include Special Ed funding for example, Deer Park would lose almost a third of its already tight budget.

She says the school board will now have to decide whether to attempt to re-run the levy election this April, or find a way to slash their budget deeper.

One possibility that may have contributed to the failure is that Riverside, unlike most other school districts, ran a technology and capitol levy as a separate proposition along with their maintenance and operation levy. 

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