Lawmakers pass bill to delay school levy cliff

More than one month after a bill to delay the “levy cliff” and prevent Washington schools from losing millions in funding was introduced to the state Senate, it has passed and is awaiting signature by Gov. Jay Inslee.

Inslee has said he plans to approve the bill, but as of Monday evening, had not signed it. The bill will allow school districts to continue collecting up to 28 percent of their levy base through local property taxes as they have been for the past seven years. The levy base is the amount of state and federal funding a district receives. The 28 percent cap on tax collection is a 4 percent increase from years prior to 2010 and was enacted by the Legislature at the height of the recession to help districts cope with the lack of state funding and prevent lay-offs.

The bill’s passage means the feared teacher layoffs will not happen, but it also throws into stark contrast the issue brought forth in the McCleary decision. According to that decision, teacher salaries should not be dependent on school district levies, but should be fully funded by the state. The issue of fully funding education is still being debated at the state level as lawmakers attempt to find the billions of dollars necessary. The regular legislative session is set to end April 23.

Meanwhile, the Vashon Island School District (VISD) has approved a $10 million bond to fund improvements to the high school’s athletic facilities and repairs at the middle and elementary schools. The bond will be brought to voters on April 25 and, if approved, will most notably fund the construction of a new synthetic turf field and rubberized track at the high school.

VISD Superintendent Michael Soltman said if voters approve the bond it would raise property taxes by, at most, $5 per month for a $500,000 home. However, he noted the debt may be able to be structured in such a way as to not affect property tax rates.

Ballots will be sent out April 5, and VISD board chair Bob Hennessey said a volunteer-run campaign is underway and will be rolling out a pro-bond effort soon.

Soltman said another group of volunteers has written the “pro” statement for the bond, but no one has volunteered to write the “con.”

— Anneli Fogt