Northwest NEWS

February 15, 1999


Guest Editorial

Northshore Schools a smart investment

by Rich Baldwin, chair, Citizens for Northshore Schools

   Recently, we learned that the Northshore School District is cutting $2.9 million, or 2.3%, from its 1998-1999 budget. While this is a lot of money, a brief review of the facts shows that it is the smart thing to do. Northshore is particularly careful with our tax dollars and acts to keep tax rates low while offering one of the best education programs in the state.

   Several recent events made the budget cuts inevitable. First, enrollment growth has slowed. Based on the best available data, the district expected an enrollment increase of about 2.5%. The actual increase was roughly half that. The lower enrollment in regular and special education students reduced revenue from the state by about $1.8 million.

   Second, the Education Reform Act has raised the bar academically for students, and Northshore must prepare its teachers for the new standards and a stronger curriculum. This will cost $2.1 million this year.

   Third, action by the State Legislature reduced the district's local taxing authority by $1.8 million per year over the past two years. Even though the Northshore voters wanted to support their schools, the cap on local taxes was lowered.

   Fortunately, this budget cut represents a temporary setback thanks to sound fiscal management by the school district, strong public support, and new action by the Legislature. Last year, Northshore voters approved a four-year levy by a wide margin after the Legislature restored the original, higher cap. This provides stable funding for the district through 2002. In addition, the district has maintained a strong fund balance for years to protect itself from just this kind of situation (and worse).

   Along with the levy, Northshore voters approved a Technology Levy and a $75 million Capital Projects Bond to modernize older schools and fields and add classrooms. The capital projects will not be disrupted by the current situation and are proceeding on schedule. Northshore has an excellent track record in managing construction. Unfortunately, by law, neither technology levy money nor capital projects money may be used for operations, so the school district does not have the option of cutting slightly back those programs to supplement its operating budget.

   Northshore is also taking good care of the students. The budget cuts will only affect discretionary spending. No teachers or assistants will be let go. No district employees will lose their jobs. The teachers will still be provided the support they need to prepare students for higher academic standards.

   But perhaps the best news for taxpayers is that the school district's property tax rate, about 40% of the total tax rate, is going down. When the levies and bond were passed a year ago, the predicted tax rate was $5.98 per $1,000. Since then, Northshore's assessed valuation has increased and our tax rate is estimated to have dropped to $5.85 per $1,000. This trend is likely to continue over the next three years due to growth.

   Investing in our Northshore School District students is a smart use of our money.