Op-Ed on Stevenson-Carson School District levy proposal – Reps. Taylor and Chandler
On Feb. 14, for the first time ever, the Stevenson-Carson School District will send voters a three-year maintenance and operations levy. As your state Representatives, we're often asked to talk about the history and the need for voter-approved levies, as education funding is both the state's paramount duty and one of our top priorities in the Legislature.
In many cases, levies help school districts bridge the gap between what the state pays and what school districts determine they need to operate.
In the case of the Stevenson-Carson School District, the levy being proposed represents around $2.07 per every $1,000 of assessed property value. This equates to slightly more than $1.5 million in levy support per year and would amount to 10-12 percent of the school district's total budget.
In a quick comparison to other local area school districts, we can see that only the Lyle and Goldendale levy rates are lower at $1.15 and $2.03 per $1,000 of assessed value respectively.
The levy would provide more than just $1.5 million for Stevenson-Carson School District. The state has a program called “levy equalization” (LEA) that helps make sure that property-poor areas of the state are equalized in education funding with the property-rich areas of the state. With a levy, Stevenson-Carson would leverage an additional $414,000 from the state's LEA payments.
Part of the reason the 15th District, as well as other rural areas around the state, suffers from low tax collections is the fact that many of the counties are primarily owned by government – state, federal and tribal. When governments own land, they pay only a fraction of the property tax liability private land owners would pay. It's called Payment in Lieu of Taxes, or PILT. Currently, the state is looking at lowering PILT payments to counties. In the tribe's case, no property taxes are collected at all.
Property taxes are the mainstay funding for school districts since that is where landowners pay for school levies and a chunk also goes to the state. When land is taken off the tax rolls, it hurts schools. About 96 percent of Skamania County is publicly owned in one form or another.
The district says it has made $800,000 in cuts the last two years, with an additional $1.5 million in cuts scheduled to take place this year.
According to the Stevenson-Carson School District, the amount of money received from the Federal Forest Funds has decreased substantially in recent years. In 2007-08, the district received more than $4 million in Federal Forest Funds. That number has steadily shrunk and is expected to be closer to $1.5 million for 2011-12.
While the recent state Supreme Court ruling said the state was not fulfilling its constitutional duty of “fully funding basic education,” there is still a lot of debate centered around the definition of “basic education” and what “fully funding” really means.
As that debate continues, school districts will continue to use all the tools available to them to help educate our children. Federal dollars, state dollars, budget cuts, and voter-approved property tax levies all play a particular role.
On Feb. 14, voters in the Stevenson-Carson School District will decide for the first time ever if their education funding “tool box” contains a voter-approved maintenance and operations levy.
Rep. David Taylor, R-Moxee, and Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Granger, represent the 15th Legislative District