Local schools soon may be able to seek voter approval of four-year operating levies instead of two-year measures.
Currently, voters in most school districts are asked to approve levies every two years. But a bill and resolution passed by the House this week would allow school districts to expand their budget cycle to four years, a move supported by local school administrators.
Because the legislation would change the state’s constitution, voters would have the final say. If HJR4208 and HB2011 are passed by the Senate, as expected, the issue would be put to a vote in the next general election.
Local school administrators say the legislation could help cut election costs. Spokane School District 81 spent $67,000 for last year’s election, Mead School District spent $13,000 and Central Valley School District spends roughly $10,000 every other year.
District 81 Superintendent Gary Livingston says a four-year budget cycle would provide more stability. He also says money could be saved on levy campaigns. About $50,000 to $60,000 is donated every other year to build community support for levies, Livingston said.
But the Senate’s top budget-writer says the move might not be as helpful to schools as some think.
“If schools want to do it, fine,” said Sen. Jim West, R-Spokane. “I think in the long run, it will be detrimental.”
West says expanding the budget cycle could make it more difficult to pass levies because voters would be involved only once every four years. He says it would disrupt organized levy support in communities and that it would be more difficult to recruit volunteers for the campaigns every four years.
West also says he is concerned about the challenges of drafting a budget that would cover a longer period.
“Looking four years into the future and predicting what you’ll need, that’s getting kind of risky,” West said. “It’s tough enough to do it for two years.”
Livingston says he understands West’s concerns but notes that the district always could decide to revert to a two-year budget cycle.
“You still have that option if things change,” Livingston said. “There’s no liability because you can’t do it without the vote of the people.”
Skip Bonuccelli, Central Valley School District’s public information officer, says that extending the budget cycle also would allow administrators more time to address educational issues.
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