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Saturday, October 24, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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SPS takes first step toward levy

Spokane Public Schools is looking into asking voters to approve a replacement levy in February.  (JESSE TINSLEY)
Spokane Public Schools is looking into asking voters to approve a replacement levy in February. (JESSE TINSLEY)

Spokane Public Schools is taking the first steps toward asking voters to approve up to a $200 million, three-year replacement levy in February.

During an hourlong virtual work session Wednesday night, board members – three of whom are new this year – listened to staff and outside experts about how to proceed. No decisions were made.

“Levy and Bonds 101,” associate Superintendent Mark Anderson called it, the first step in a four-month process that is complicated by an uncertain revenue situation because of the COVID-related economic downturn.

There’s a chance taxpayers could pay less overall for education than they did four years ago, prior to the McCleary decision that shifted a greater share of the overall tax burden funding public education to the state, especially people living in the Puget Sound area.

However, there’s also a chance they could pay more, both in levy support and overall.

Under scenarios presented Wednesday, a renewed Educational Programs and Operation levy would raise $200 million over 3 years.

The levy cost alone would be $2.50 per thousand dollars of assessed value each year from 2022 through 2024.

For a $300,000 home, that’s $750 per year – an increase over the current $1.59 per thousand dollars (or $477 per year) paid now, just for the levy.

Overall this year, Spokane property owners are paying $7.02 per thousand dollars of assessed value for K-12 public education.

The scenarios presented Wednesday would raise that overall number to anywhere from $7.50 per thousand dollars of assessed value, to $7.99 per thousand. It depends on what debt-service plan the district selects.

However, board members directed staff to examine the potential impact of asking voters to approve a lower rate, such as $2.00 per thousand or less.

Under a law passed last year, Spokane’s maximum allowable levy is the lesser of $2,500 per student (adjusted for inflation) for school districts with fewer than 40,000 FTE students, or $2.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

Anderson pointed out that the next bond request, due in 2021, will ask for less money than the $495 million bond voters approved in 2018 to build new middle schools, replace Joe Albi Stadium and other projects.

That could mitigate the effect of a levy increase, Anderson said. Moreover, future capital projects will be eligible for a state match.

Revenues also may be boosted – and the per-thousand rates reduced – by rising property values. Assessed values in Spokane County rose 10% this year and are projected to rise another 12% by next year.

Revenues from levies are limited to educational programs and operation expenses not funded by the state, such as extracurricular activities, extended school days and school year, additional course offerings, and activities associated with early learning programs.

The taxes are deposited in the district’s general fund.

After next week’s work session, the district is expected to file a levy expenditure plan with the state superintendent’s office and adopt a resolution to hold an vote on Feb. 9.

Spokane has historically backed school levies, which require only a simple majority for passage.

Approval rates topped 80% at the turn of the millennium before falling into the 60s during the recession. The most recent levy, in 2018, was backed by 73% of Spokane city voters.

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