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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Here’s what’s up for a vote with the Medical Lake School District’s two proposed levies totaling $8.2 million

Joe Madsen, a retired firefighter, repaints the Hallett Elementary school sign for students and staff on Aug. 24 in Medical Lake, Wash.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

The Medical Lake School District is asking voters to approve renewals of their two levies, totaling over $8.2 million in three years of property tax collections.

The larger of the two, the educational programs levy at around $6.4 million, would pay for extra staff, extracurriculars and mental and behavioral health supports. The smaller levy, a capital levy at $1.9 million, would fund facility repairs, technology and safety upgrades.

The levies up for vote next week would renew at an estimated rate of $1.55 per $1,000 of assessed property value for the greater and 45 cents for the smaller. In order to maximize state funds that match the larger levy, the tax rate needs to sit at $1.50 at the least.

“Medical Lake School District is considered in essence a property poor district, in the sense that based on our assessed value we aren’t able to leverage taxpayer funds in the same way that Seattle or even Spokane can,” Superintendent Kim Headrick said.

The school board selected a sum that would give the district “a little bit of cushion” over the next three years.

“It would again allow us to receive that full state match,” Headrick said.

In 2022, assessed property values in the district increased by over 33%, resulting in lowered rates from the school’s collection. Since voters already approved an amount for collection, the rate fell, and the district couldn’t collect the full state match.

“For us that meant we had a $260,000 loss in state funds that we were eligible for, but because we weren’t at that $1.50 rate, we weren’t able to collect from the state,” Headrick said.

The district dipped into its “healthy” fund balance to supplement the unexpected lack of state revenue.

“We have been able to weather some of those storms in that regard. Instead of making significant cuts, we have just basically paid out of our savings account,” Headrick said. “But that’s not something that we can obviously continue.”

Since it can’t pick a rate to put on ballots, just the total sum, the district hopes its proposal will keep it in the range to maximize a state match. The Gray fire razed over $1 million worth of property in the district in August. This loss increased estimated rates, enough to inch the district closer to their $1.50 target and collect a prorated amount in matching funds from the state.

The levy and matching dollars go largely toward staffing. Particularly coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Gray fire, Headrick said students and families have leaned on the mental and behavioral health offerings at the school.

“It’s really a communitywide support system,” Headrick said. “In supporting the schools, it supports our entire community. Given the fact that we’ve had the Gray fire, we’ve leaned on each other significantly: us leaning on the city, the city leaning on us.”

Led by their levy-funded licensed mental health coordinator, the district recently offered an evening grief and loss class that taught attendees how the grieving brain functions, techniques to work through it, and advice to help others cope with loss.

“It was super powerful, because we had school personnel there, we had families there and folks who were community members who either wanted to support others impacted by the Gray fire or directly impacted themselves,” Headrick said.

Other staff funded by the levy include some teachers and paraeducators, administrative support – including two full-time assistant principals, a military family advocate and two extra school nurses, of whom the state only funds one.

“Really, we need those three nurses in our district,” Headrick said. “We have kids with critical care needs that warrant that. We’d be in an unsafe situation without those folks on staff.”

The larger levy also funds the entirety of the district’s extracurricular offerings.

Taxes collected under the capital levy are earmarked toward completing a five-year upgrade on Medical Lake High School’s roof, wrapping up construction on a secure entry in Medical Lake Middle School, replacing heating and cooling systems, playground asphalt and 375 of the school’s Chromebooks.