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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Freeman School District voters will consider two levy proposals

By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

The Freeman School District is asking voters to approve two levy renewals on the February ballot to help pay for safety improvements, technology and education programs.

First on the ballot is the replacement Educational Programs and Operations levy. Formerly known as a Maintenance and Operations Levy, the levy has been regularly reauthorized by voters for more than 50 years. The district is asking for an estimated $1.50 per $1,000 in assessed home value for the next three years, the same amount requested at the last renewal in 2021.

“It’s the same tax rate we’ve run in ’18 and ’21,” said Superintendent Randy Russell.

The proposed levy would collect $1.9 million in 2025, which would account for 14% of the district’s budget. The levy pays for things the state does not, including advanced placement classes, nurses, a psychologist, counselors, clubs, athletics, library services and classroom materials. It also pays for elective classes such as drama, band, choir and foreign languages.

The levy also is needed to cover increases in the district’s property insurance and the medical insurance that is provided to employees. Local Effort Assistance funding provided by the state beginning in 2017 that was supposed to allow school districts to rely less on levies has been dropping steadily among all districts that receive it. Freeman no longer receives Local Effort Assistance funds, Russell said. The last amount it received was $350,000, and that dropped to zero in the last fiscal year, he said.

Despite the loss of the state funding and inflationary increases, Russell said the district made every effort to keep the amount of the levy down.

“Freeman could collect up to $2.50 per $1,000, but we’re only asking for $1.50,” Russell said. “We’re trying to be cognizant and respectful of people’s budgets and the taxes they’re already paying.”

The district also is asking voters to approve a replacement Capital Safety, Security, Technology and Infrastructure Improvements levy. This renewal of an existing levy is requesting an estimated $1.25 per $1,000 in assessed home value for the next three years.

This levy would be used in part to purchase new Chromebooks for each student. The ones the district has are four years old, which is old for these devices. The levy also would pay for security upgrades at the district’s three schools, including new cameras and entry controls.

“This is upgrading the current security systems we have,” he said.

The district also plans to upgrade each of its parking lots over the next few years, improving accessibility and traffic flow.

In recent years, much of the money from this levy has been used to improve the middle school, which was built in 1990. The school needed a new roof, boiler and HVAC system.

“A large portion of the capital project levy dollars have been spent on the middle school,” Russell said.

The district also has had to pay for occasional repairs at the other schools.

“The ‘brand new’ high school is 14 years old,” Russell said. “The ‘brand new’ elementary school is 13 years old.”

As an example, last year a sprinkler head broke in the elementary school, and the resulting flooding caused $5,000 in damage. That money came from the existing capital levy, Russell said. And just two weeks ago, an air handler in the elementary school’s multipurpose room that also houses a kitchen went out and will cost $8,000 to replace.

The capital levy has been reapproved by voters every three years since it began in 2018. Russell said the district has been lucky to have the regular support of voters.

“We’re very fortunate to be in a community that values and puts a high priority on education,” he said.

The levies require a simple majority to pass. Ballots for the Feb. 13 election were mailed last week.