Amid budget crisis, Mead voters reject school levy; plans for a new elementary school are postponed

Months after Mead School District shut down two of its schools, voters in the area swatted down a $14.6 million levy to fill in the gaps of its budget crisis.

According to the latest results, a resounding 58 percent of voters opposed the levy to add safety and security personnel, maintain nurses and recover paraeducators lost in recent budget cuts.

Carmen Green, school board president, says she's surprised by the results, and worries what it will mean for Mead schools.

"I'm just really disappointed that we're going to be facing more budget cuts this year," she says.

Like other districts across Washington, including Spokane Public Schools, the budget crisis is due to a combination of teacher pay raises negotiated in 2018 — Mead approved raises of up to 16 percent — combined with the state capping the amount of money schools can collect from local levies.

Earlier this year, Mead faced a $12 million budget shortfall. The district made the unpopular decision to close MEAD Alternative High School and Riverpoint Academy, schools that served kids who parents said needed the most help or were unconventional learners.

The ill will from those decisions may have contributed to the rejection of the levy.

"It's no secret that — the teacher pay raises — that people were mad about that," Green says.

But Green says even without the salary increases, the district would have been cutting the budget. Mead, she says, relied on local levy dollars to fund programs more than other school districts, and when the state capped the levy rate at $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value, Mead took a huge hit. State lawmakers earlier this year agreed to raise the levy cap to $2.50 per $1,000, and this vote would have let the district collect up to that much. And that still would have been a much lower rate than a couple years ago before the state instituted a levy cap. Voters, however, weren't buying it.

The rejection of the levy could also mean that Mead won't build a 10th elementary school. Green says Mead was planning on doing so in anticipation of future enrollment growth if the levy passed. The district already has the capital funds to construct the building, but the levy would have helped cover some of the operational costs.

On Wednesday, the school board tabled a vote on the elementary school until they can get "some more budget information."

"We won't be looking at building it imminently," Green says.

She notes that the district is opening its ninth elementary school, Creekside Elementary, next fall, and that should help alleviate overcrowding at the elementary level.

"I think we're in for some challenging times ahead," Green says. "But I know that we're still going to provide a good product and do the very best we can with what we have." 

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About The Author

Wilson Criscione

Wilson Criscione, born and raised in Spokane, is an Inlander staff writer covering education and social services in the Inland Northwest.