November 29, 2011 in City

Anatomy of a levy

Spokane County school districts hope voters help pay the bills
Jodyl@Spokesman.Com, (509) 459-5593 (509) 459-5593
 
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Isabella Lomas, foreground, plays her viola with the orchestra class taught by Angus Nunes, far left, at Jefferson Elementary School on Nov. 17. Funding for elementary music programs is likely in jeopardy if February’s levy fails.
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Three-year levies in 13 of Spokane County’s school districts will expire at the end of 2012, and voters will likely be asked to continue the taxes – plus tack on a few more cents to compensate for state budget cuts. Given the economic climate and threats of further state budget cuts, education officials are concerned about the prospect for success on the ballot. The deadline for including a three-year levy on the Feb. 14 ballot is Dec. 30. Below is a breakdown of how school levy dollars are spent in Spokane, and what failure of the ballot measures would mean.

What is a levy?

Levies are the community-supported portion of a school district’s budget. The tax does not pay for construction; bonds cover that activity.

The programs supported by the levy are what the state defines as “non-basic education.” However, the levy pays for what the general population considers a basic school experience such as smaller class sizes and school sports.

What’s at stake?

Without the levies, a school district would lose 20 to 25 percent of its current budget. For Spokane Public Schools, that would mean more than $73 million a year.

Educational programs

The breakdown of each school district’s levy varies, but according to a recent statewide study, how the money is divided among programs is similar. The largest portion of the tax, about 80 percent on average, supports educational programs: drop-out prevention; smaller class sizes, which includes supplementing salaries for teachers and support staff; custodial staff; library positions; online learning; a number of administrative positions; school resource officers; elective classes in high school; and elementary school art and music programs.

Transportation

On average, between 4 and 6 percent of levy funds supplement student transportation to and from school or activities.

Extracurricular activities

Around 4 to 6 percent of the funds are directed toward sports; clubs such as debate, yearbook and DECA; and intramural activities.

Special education

Special education programs are also supplemented by levies, but the percentage varies by district based on the number of students in that category. For Spokane Public Schools, it’s 5 percent of the levy.

The other 2 percent

The remaining 2 percent is used for other programs and services, such as programs for gifted-and-talented education and English language learners.

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