In February 2014, citizens will vote on a bond and two levies that would provide a total of more than $400 million for the Northshore School District.
Many people say the three propositions, which are funded by property taxes, would provide crucial funding for a new high school and for daily operations, but others say the taxes would be too burdensome to citizens.
The district typically proposes three measures — an operations levy, a technology levy and a bond for construction and renovation projects. Both levies are renewals of previous levies passed four years ago, and traditionally, new bonds are passed every four years as well, NSD Superintendent Larry Francois said.
Committees made up of parents, community members and staff decide how much money to ask for in each measure.
"Throughout that process, the board was always sensitive to the impact on taxpayers and voters," NSD Board President Julia Lacey said. She emphasized that anyone can still give input about the levies and bond at the next two school board meetings.
In October, the school board will vote to put the three propositions on the ballot for voters to decide in February 2014.
The Maintenance and Operations (M&O) levy pays for about 23 percent of NSD’s operating budget, including teachers’ salaries, food service, transportation and sports, Francois said.
It’s intended to supplement state and federal funding, which make up 64.5 percent and 5 percent of the budget, respectively. (The remaining 7.5 percent comes from grants, investment earnings and other sources.)
"The state pays for what they consider basic education, and they define what basic education is," NSD Communications Director Leanna Albrecht said.
The M&O levy allows for smaller class sizes, special education and transportation not funded by the state, academic support for high achievers and struggling learners, curriculum updates and professional development and extra prep time for teachers, Albrecht said.
This levy would collect $200 million over four years, or about $50 million per year from 2015 to 2018.
The state sets a limit on how much money each district can collect from the M&O levy. Still, levies usually increase every year for two reasons, Francois said: inflation and growing enrollment.
"For us to provide the same level of service in 2014 as in 2010, it costs us a little more," he said.
The technology levy would collect $32 million, or $8 million per year, to pay for instructional and operational technology, including interactive audio equipment for classrooms, instructional computers, training for technology integration and more modern printers. The current technology levy, which voters approved in 2010, collects $6 million per year.
Both levies require a simple majority — 50 percent of the vote plus 1 — to pass.
The Capital Projects bond differs from the levies in several ways. The bond cannot be used to pay for the school district’s day-to-day costs — instead, it’s used to construct or renovate buildings or to buy land.
Bonds require a supermajority (60 percent of the vote plus 1) to pass, since "that’s asking the community to make a much longer financial commitment," Francois said. (The district has 20 years to pay off bonds, but usually pays them off in 10 to 12 years, Albrecht said.)
Bonds also require validation to pass, meaning that 40 percent of the people who voted in the past election need to cast their votes on the bond.
This year’s bond would collect $177.5 million (compared to $149.2 million in 2010), which would pay for several projects. $130 million would go toward a new high school, $17 million would pay for a new technology building and gym at Woodinville High School and $30.5 million would go to smaller projects throughout the district — "unglamorous stuff" like fixing roofs, heating and carpeting, Francois said.
The new high school in the north end of the district is NSD’s solution to growing enrollment, which has "caught fire in the past year or two" after the recession, Francois said.
Although much of the overcrowding is in elementary schools, building a new high school will let the district reconfigure grade levels, which will shift ninth grade to high schools and sixth grade to middle schools, reducing the amount of students in elementary schools, Francois explained.
And reconfiguring grade levels from the current junior high model to a middle school model with four-year high schools has other benefits, Francois said, including expanded course offerings for ninth graders and the opportunity for them to compete in high school sports.
The district estimates that collecting the money for all three propositions will mean a tax rate of $4.98 per $1,000 of assessed property value in 2015. The rate is projected to drop slightly to $4.97 in 2016, $4.96 in 2017, and $4.95 in 2018, but the rates will vary depending on how many new houses and businesses are built, according to Albrecht. The district’s goal was not to exceed the current rate, which is $5.29 in 2013.
At the Sept. 10 school board meeting, all six community members who commented supported the levies and bond, and specifically the new high school. But not everyone agrees that the propositions are a good solution.
School board Director Dawn McCravey wants to keep the bond and levies at the same dollar amount as the 2010 cycle, which she thinks will be enough for the district to accomplish everything it needs to do, including building the new high school.
"I live in a neighborhood where many people are on fixed incomes or have taken massive pay cuts since 2008," McCravey said.
Lying Wong, an NSD parent who previously worked to change the math curriculum, has similar concerns. She noted that lots of people are still unemployed, and that the district has never lowered the levies or bond.
"They don’t need to continue sucking up funding from the taxpayers," Wong said. "A lot of people have said that they won’t support [the levies and bond], because they don’t understand why the district is doing it."
Amber Manning, an NSD parent who lives in the north end of the school district that has seen the most growth, believes the bond and levies are a small price to pay to deal with the overcrowding problem.
"I am not a fan of increased taxes and hate the idea of feeding a bottomless pit of need, but I do believe the Northshore School District has proved in the past that they are good stewards of our tax dollars and there are no examples of blatant waste within our district,"
Manning wrote in an email. "I would rather pay a few extra tax dollars for quality education that pays dividends to both enhancing the quality of our community and our children’s education. It is certainly less expensive than private school, which is where those of us who care about our children’s education will end up if the overcrowding continues."
It would be "catastrophic" if the levies and bond didn’t pass, Francois said, noting that Northshore’s levies and bonds have always passed in the past.
If the M&O levy didn’t pass, "that would be catastrophic," he said. "We would not be able to provide education in a way that anybody in this community would recognize."
If the technology levy didn’t pass, NSD would struggle to maintain current technology and stay relevant, and without the bond, the district would have to address overcrowding with its current facilities.
"We’ve enjoyed great support from our community historically, but we know we can’t take that for granted," Francois said.