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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Mead school board approves $91 million levy ask, adjusting to decline in state funding

The Mt. Spokane High School band practices behind the school Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2021. The Mead School Board has placed a property tax levy on the February ballot to help pay for athletics, extracurricular and other programs that are not considered "basic education."  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

The Mead School District will ask voters to approve a $91 million levy over three years of property tax collection to support existing student extracurriculars and staff and buy new curricula.

The school board voted unanimously Monday to send the proposal to ballots in February’s special election.

The levy would be renewed at a rate of $2.50 per $1,000 in assessed property value, which has gone up in the Mead school district in recent years. Combined with taxes the district currently collects, the estimated total rate would be $3.69 per $1,000 under the proposal. In 2024, the district will collect $2.99.

Levy dollars constitute 13.6% of the district’s budget. It pays for the entirety of extracurriculars including sports, performing arts and clubs. Over half of the levy goes toward additional teachers, paraeducators and other educational endeavors. It bridges the gap between services offered and what the state pays for per their basic education funding formula. Based on enrollment, which is on the decline in Mead, the state allocates pay for about 350 teachers, while the levy supports another 76, according to data from the 2021-22 school year.

In addition to paying for existing services and staff, Mead Superintendent Travis Hanson said the district plans to use levy dollars on new math, science and social studies curricula. Hanson said the current curriculum is decades old.

“They simply haven’t been added to in a long time. We really need to update those specific areas,” Hanson said.

He also plans to use levy dollars to make safety and security upgrades to schools.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the district’s enrollment has declined by 450 students, Hanson said, due to prevalence of online school, students choicing out of the district or forgoing public education.

“The reality is that students definitely drive apportionment dollars,” Hanson said.

Mead has cut its budget by $10 million over the last four years, adjusting to lagging enrollment.

“The reality is we’ve gone through a period of right-sizing to current enrollment levels and some belt tightening,” Hanson said.

Election’s impact

Alluding to the common calls for parents’ rights in their child’s education during the recent school board election in which conservative candidates saw overwhelming success, David Knaggs spoke in support of renewing the levy at Monday’s meeting.

“This levy is necessary for the students; it’s not about parents,” Knaggs said, speaking as a district parent, though he ran unsuccessfully in last week’s election against current Mead board member Michael Cannon .

Other themes from the contentious trio of races, one of which was the most expensive school board race in the state, included transparency in district actions, financial clarity and accountability in spending. Hanson said the latest election cycle has influenced how the district communicates levy spending on its website, which details how funding is allocated, historic levy rates and a calculator to determine property owners’ tax bills under the proposed renewal.

“We’ve heard a loud cry for accountability and transparency and clarity; those were three words used frequently in this election cycle,” Hanson said. “The amount of information we have is really evidence of a desire to do all three things.”

Hanson acknowledged a potential disdain for taxes among the community, exacerbated by growing property values in the district and economic strife nationwide.

“I believe a quality public school experience is a key driver of a vibrant and thriving economy,” Hanson said.

“Basic ed funding is just that, it’s basic,” Hanson said. “The comprehensive school experience that our parents want and expect simply is not possible without levy dollars.”