After winning validation last month from Olympia, the Mead School District hopes for more next month from hometown taxpayers.
On Feb. 9, voters will decide the fate of a three-year, $53.2 million replacement levy. Like those proposed in other districts, it will pay for many programs and personnel not covered by state and federal support.
For example, the district of 10,500 students employs 15 nurses yet receives state funding for only one-and-a-half.
Also covered are extracurricular activities and many elective courses, mental health supports and more personnel: 36 custodians and maintenance workers, plus 76 teachers and the smaller class sizes those positions support.
“They’re things that people have come to expect,” Superintendent Shawn Woodward said. “The basic education that the state funds is really bare bones.”
If approved by a simple majority, the estimated levy tax rate would be $2.00 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. That’s an increase over the current rate of $1.47 per $1,000, but is lower than the $4.86 rate of 2018, prior to the McCleary decision that shifted a greater tax burden to the state.
Bottom line: together with the $1.86 per $1,000 for the current bond, the total tax burden in 2022-24 would be $3.86 per $1,000. That’s an increase of 53 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, or about $159 annually on a home worth $300,000.
Woodward wants to point out something else: the district’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mead was the largest district in the state to bring most of its students back in-person – a decision that was questioned in September but vindicated last month by Gov. Jay Inslee and State Superintendent Chris Reykdal when they said data showed in-school transmission was limited as long as safety procedures were followed.
And while the district experienced some surges in cases, its in-school transmission rates were comparable to neighboring districts that began the school year with distance learning.
“People know that we’ve made a commitment to our schools,” Woodward said. “By reopening schools, a lot of our families realize that we are in the minority in the state, providing a model that only 4% of students in the state are able to experience.”
Woodward hopes families won’t take that for granted when they vote.
“I think our families are pleased that we were able to do that … that we listened,” Woodward said.
However, there is lingering resentment by some that the district didn’t listen to stakeholders in 2018, when it hiked teacher salaries by an average of 16%.
The following spring, it cut about $10.5 million in programs. Among the losses were the Riverpoint Academy, an award-winning project-based school, and the M.E.A.D. alternative high schools.
Six months later, in November 2019, a $14.6 million supplemental levy was soundly rejected, 58% to 42%.
There is no formal opposition to the levy, but one critic took to Facebook to vent at the district.
“I will vote ‘no’ and continue to vote ‘no’ until the district chooses to bring back M.E.A.D. and RA,” she wrote. “There were many other areas where budget cuts could have been made.”
Others criticized the amount of the increase.
However, Woodward pointed out that while other districts are asking for higher rates, “Our board voted to go only up to $2.00 per $1,000.”
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