Levy cliff could cost RSD $11 million and 150 teachers

Levy cliff could cost RSD $11 million and 150 teachers

School districts statewide could lose nearly $400 million if the Legislature doesn’t act soon.

  • Friday, February 17, 2017 11:59am
  • News

With a 4 percent dip in next year’s levy lid, Renton School District reports it could lose nearly $11 million dollars and up to 150 teachers.

Maximum levy percentages are scheduled to drop from 28 percent to 24 percent in the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year unless the Legislature extends the limit or approves a budget with supportive funding. The 4 percent dip could result in a loss of about $11 million each year for RSD and about $400 million for school districts statewide.

According to RSD Interim Superintendent Art Jarvis, a slashed budget would immediately affect staffing capabilities. Renton could be sending notices of impending layoffs to an estimated 120 to 150 teachers if the lawmakers don’t come up with a solution soon.

Several school districts banded together and hosted a press conference last month at Renton High School and went to Olympia on Monday to ask the Legislature to delay the levy cliff for at least one more year so the districts won’t have to slash their budgets. Without an immediate extension, districts will need to issue layoff notices by May.

“The planning that needs to happen in spring can’t wait until the Legislature is done,” Jarvis said. “If the Legislature doesn’t finish until May or June, it will be way too late for school districts… the next two months are critical in planning and we need to know if we are going to be short $11 million for the Renton School District.

“Nobody could cut $11 million out of a school district like Renton without having to reduce teachers.”

Minority Senate Democrats on Jan. 26 and again on Jan. 27 tried and failed to bring Senate Bill 5023 to the floor without a committee hearing. The bill would freeze the current levy lid at 28 percent until 2019 and thus assure local school districts of necessary funding resources until a new funding plan is adopted within the state budget.

Senate Republicans approved an education budget, SSB 5607, following floor debate Feb. 1 that would defer lowering the levy lid to 24 percent until the 2018 school year and would eliminate voter-approved special levies in 2019. The lid would drop to 10 percent by 2020. The budget passed with 25 in support and 24 opposed.

Democrats seek to address the “levy cliff” issue now instead of waiting for final budget approval.

The House of Representatives, Jan. 23, passed House Bill 1059, which would delay revisions to the levy lid until 2019. To become law, the bill still requires approval by the Senate and the governor.

According to the Supreme Court’s 2012 Mathew and Stephanie McCleary v. State of Washington decision, the state must come up with a budget this session to fully fund basic education. The court ordered the state to propose a plan to fund basic education by 2018.

Through past decades, local school districts have made up the difference between what the state has funded for education and the revenue necessary to meet the “basic education” standard. Districts have done this by asking their voters to approve special property tax levies. According to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction voters historically have overwhelmingly supported to tax increases for education.

Grace Swanson contributed to this story.

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