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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane Public Schools decides against supplemental levy

The Spokane Public Schools district office at Main Avenue and Bernard Street is seen Sept. 24. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
The Spokane Public Schools district office at Main Avenue and Bernard Street is seen Sept. 24. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

A sharply divided Spokane Public Schools board decided late Wednesday against seeking a supplemental levy in a special election in April.

Instead, the district will draw down on its reserves and exercise some additional belt-tightening to restore some of the programs and personnel lost in last year’s budget cuts.

The vote, which came shortly before 10 p.m., capped a long night of discussions that began with a special meeting, during which district staff outlined the pros and cons of holding a special election on April 28.

Among the negatives: an estimated cost of $200,000 to hold the special election, plus the short time frame to communicate with voters about the need for more funding.

“We are all in agreement that the priorities … (are) the restoration of the school day and put those specialists back in,” board member Kevin Morrison said after a 3-2 vote. “But just because we can tax the citizens, it doesn’t mean we should.”

Morrison was joined in the majority by board members Jenny Slagle and Mike Wiser.

“This is probably the hardest decision I’ve have to make,” Wiser said. “I think we can deliver an excellent school experience, even as we push for increased funding.”

Now the district will do just that as it works toward a budget for next year.

It will restore up to $9 million in cuts from last year, which would draw down, though not eliminate, the district’s minimum fund balance, or “rainy day fund.”

That money will be used to lessen overcrowding, restore secondary school librarians, restore full-day Fridays at elementaries and the specialist model, plus potentially some elementary school librarians.

Board members agreed on the need for some restoration, but disagreed on how to do it. During the special meeting earlier Wednesday, Board President Jerrall Haynes argued in favor of the levy.

“Fear of a potential fail wouldn’t be doing the right thing,” said Haynes, who along with Nikki Lockwood supported the levy in the final vote.

“I’m not OK with not trying. The whole point of a levy is giving it a try,” Haynes said.

Haynes closed with a question to the rest of the board. “What do we lose?”

“Trust,” Morrison answered.

Morrison, a former district employee, noted that earlier regular levies had passed with majorities of better than 70%, and he didn’t want to jeopardize that track record.

Superintendent Shelley Redinger countered that line of argument.

“Times have changed and we have to adjust,” Redinger said. “I’m as proud as anyone getting 73% (approval), but we owe it to ourselves and our students to give them the best possible education.”

However, others worried that levy election results from neighboring districts could negatively impact a supplemental levy,

Central Valley narrowly passed a supplemental levy earlier this month. Another, with a similar price tag, lost heavily in Mead.

A one-year levy would have supplemented the final year of the School District’s existing three-year General Fund replacement educational programs and operation excess tax levy authorized by the voters in 2018 and provide taxes to be collected at $2.50 per $1,000 of assessed value, as allowed by State Law.

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