OLYMPIA – Some Western Washington school districts are struggling to pass levies after the Legislature raised state property taxes to pay for court-ordered public school improvements.
That increase in property taxes may have made some voters uneasy, said Melissa Laramie, director of communications and public affairs at Kent School District.
That King County school district’s two levies were failing on election night, but with later ballots counted they are barely passing. Concerns over the increase in state property taxes contributed to the close count, Laramie said.
Several school districts, including nearby Tahoma, are facing similar issues with their levies, Laramie said.
Districts in King and Snohomish counties had the most trouble passing levies, said Chris Reykdal, Washington superintendent of public instruction. But about 95 percent of districts around the state passed their levies, which isn’t that different from past years.
It’s also difficult to assess how much failure to pass levies is related to property taxes, he said, because increases also depend on other factors such as how fast the community is growing.
King, Pierce and Snohomish counties are experiencing the most growth. Their residents also must pay a new regional car-tab tax in addition to increased property taxes. Those counties have the most school districts facing failed levies.
Kevin Patterson, director of communication at Tahoma School District, said its three levies may have failed, in part, because many King County residents are already paying high tax rates and were worried about the increased property taxes.
Many Tahoma voters also may have been confused by the changes in property taxes and incorrectly thought they would be paying more for their levies, said Patterson. The district was asking to continue existing levies.
“This is unusual,” Patterson said. “(Historically), we’ve been very successful with levies.”
The Tahoma school board will consider making changes to their levies next week and try again to get voters to pass them.
Patterson said there isn’t any increase from what residents were already paying. He also pointed out that with the increase in property taxes, the state is planning to cap school levies starting next January. That would limit levies to $1.50 for every $1,000 or the amount needed to generate $2,500 per student – whichever is lower for taxpayers.
But Reykdal said this step may be too abrupt for some school districts. He’s proposing legislation to allow districts more flexibility than an automatic reduction in levies.
“Let local voters make these decisions instead of the Legislature just automatically forcing this cut,” he said. “Either don’t do it at all, delay it or phase in those cuts to make sure that districts aren’t left high and dry.”