Nearly four years ago, our community voted to renew the education programs and operations levy. That levy will expire Dec. 31, 2020. On Nov. 26, the school board will discuss and take action to ask our community to renew the levy to support programs not fully funded by the state.
Some will ask, “Didn’t we pass a levy last year?”
The community passed a construction bond measure to build schools and complete safety upgrades.
Bonds build. Levies support learning programs.
Some will also ask, “Didn’t the McCleary decision take levies away?”
No. Levies did not go away.
Levies now comprise a smaller portion of a district’s total budget, but are still integral for district operations. In fact, every district in Thurston County will ask residents to renew an expiring levy on Feb. 11, 2020.
Some will then ask, “Doesn’t the state fully fund schools now?” Again, the answer is no.
The state staffing formulas do not fully support our needs in Yelm. Let me give two examples. The state allocation for nurses provides Yelm the funds for one part-time nurse for the entire district — the equivalent of four days per week.
To serve Yelm’s 192 square miles, we have four nurses, and they are spread very thin across 10 schools. Levy dollars pay for those additional nurses.
The second example involves our wonderful school counselors. If we followed the state formula, our elementary schools would not have full-time counselors, only part time. Both our middle and high school counseling staff would have to be reduced. Again, our levy picks up the difference.
Those are only two examples. Nearly every category of school programs requires support from the levy.
Here are additional areas where levy dollars are needed:
• Special education costs are not covered by state and federal allocations.
• Our school resource officer is not funded by the state. Only one of our three security staff are funded in the state formula.
• Athletics and activity programs are funded by levy dollars and student fees.
• Maintenance and technology programs require levy support.
The new regulations around levies are different since McCleary. First, the new levy rate is $2.50 per $1,000 assessed value. The expiring levy, when passed, was $3.69 per $1,000. Second, the total amount that can be collected will be smaller than what voters approved four years ago.
Our bond campaign stated our goal to keep school property tax rates (levy plus bonds) below the 2018 levels.
We will fulfill that goal.
We are also committed to keeping the new levy amount smaller than what voters approved four years ago. We take these commitments very seriously.
In the coming months, we will work extremely hard to inform our community about this measure. The levy, if passed, would account for about 12 percent of our total budget.
We ask that you become informed and learn how these funds support our students and community.
Brian Wharton is superintendent for Yelm Community Schools.