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Saturday, March 28, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Education

Spokane Public Schools board weighs options as it considers new levy

UPDATED: Wed., Feb. 19, 2020

Spokane Public Schools superintendent Shelley Redinger delivers the grim news of major budget cutbacks for the school district on April 11, 2019. The district’s board of directors is considering a levy to restore some of those cuts. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane Public Schools superintendent Shelley Redinger delivers the grim news of major budget cutbacks for the school district on April 11, 2019. The district’s board of directors is considering a levy to restore some of those cuts. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

The Spokane Public Schools board of directors crunched a lot of numbers Wednesday night, but board members want to see a few more before deciding whether to put a supplemental levy before voters this year.

During a 90-minute special meeting, most board members appeared to be in favor of approving a one-year levy of up to $18.7 million at next week’s regular meeting.

However, there was little consensus on how much money to ask for, which programs and personnel might be restored and when an election – if any – would be held.

If an election is held in April, the board would need to file with Spokane County by Feb. 28 – that is, two days after next week’s meeting. To prepare for that possibility, district staff will prepare a resolution to that effect.

The board also could choose to place a levy on the ballot in August or November, with pros and cons for each.

Board member Kevin Morrison appeared to be against the idea of any levy, preferring to draw down on the district’s reserves next year and limp along until the next regular levy cycle in the spring of 2021.

“It troubles me that you will go out in April or August and again in February,” said Morrison, who believes that many voters would feel that “You’re taxing us again.”

“I’d hate to lose the trust of those people,” Morrison said.

The meeting began with a long-distance report from district lobbyist Melissa Gombosky, who said that only a “tiny bit” of additional aid may be forthcoming for special education, an area that’s currently underfunded by the state.

“They were receptive and they understood,” Morrison said of meetings with several legislators from Eastern Washington about the district’s financial needs.

However, Gombosky and Morrison weren’t optimistic about any immediate help.

Most of the meeting was spent reviewing the district’s fiscal situation, which is $4 million brighter than it was at the beginning of the school year, thanks to lower expenses and cost-cutting measures.

The district expects to end the current year with a fund balance of $26.2 million, but those funds will be drawn down next year no matter what the district decides.

District staff presented four scenarios to the board, only the last of which includes a supplemental levy:

  • Maintaining the status quo from last year’s budget cuts and maintain the workload suspension imposed last spring. Targeted budget cuts would reduce the projected deficit to $6.2 million, for a reduction of $2 million, and would leave the fund balance at about 4.4% of the total budget of $460 million.
  • Restore a small number of cuts, as selected by the board.
  • Lift workload suspension and restore contract provisions while restoring most or all programs cut last year. Those could include restoration of school librarians and/or the elementary school Friday schedule and other programs. But without a supplemental levy, doing so would draw the reserve to 2.4% of the total budget.
  • Seek voter approval for supplemental levy, which would lift the workload suspension and restore contract provisions and other programs cut last year.

Staff pointed out that the levy could be for any amount up to $18.7 million, or an increase of 83 cents per thousand dollars of assessed value over the current levy that expires in the summer of 2021.

Noting that districts around the state are seeking supplemental levies, Superintendent Shelley Redinger was in favor of pursuing a levy.

“These are unusual times,” Redinger said. “We know the state is listening, but this year this is the only way we would get relief.”

Board President Jerrall Haynes was receptive to moving ahead with a levy, but director Jenny Slagle said she wanted more information on each scenario, especially how each could play out down the road.

Board member Nikki Lockwood expressed frustration with the state’s position that special education is considered enrichment and not fully funded as basic education.

Lockwood and other members also discussed the pros and cons of floating a levy in April – when the district would likely shoulder the entire $100,000 election cost – or later.

Holding the election during the August primary would save money but leave the district scrambling on the eve of the new school year should it fail. Board members also were unsure how a presidential election would affect the levy’s chances of passage.

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