Voters in the Selah, East Valley and Granger school district boundaries will decide whether to approve levies in February’s special election.
The three school districts have placed education programs and operations levies — formerly referred to as maintenance and operations levies — on the ballot, which went in the mail to voters late last week.
The levies are used to fund programs beyond basic education, such as athletics, art and music, technology instruction and special education. Each measure proposes the renewal of a levy expiring at the end of the year. The new rates would take effect in 2022, if passed. Each measure requires a simple majority to pass, or 50% plus one.
Here’s what each district is asking voters to approve:
In Selah School District, voters will decide whether to approve a nearly $7.7 million two-year levy that would replace an expiring enrichment levy and be matched with a similar amount of state funds, together accounting for 12% of the district budget each year, according to the district.
The new levy is projected to cost property owners $1.55 per $1,000 assessed value — in line with the reduced rate the board certified with the County Assessor’s Office to be collected this year, which was below the dollar amount voters previously approved. That would mean a cost of about $465 per year for taxpayers with property valued at $300,000, for example.
The rate of a levy is based on assessed property value and the dollar amount voters approve, making it possible for it to change. The amount requested of voters is a collective $3.6 million in 2022 and $4 million in 2023, according to the county.
But Superintendent Shane Backlund said if the rate for either 2022 or 2023 is calculated above the $1.55 projection, “we will recommend to the board that we do the same thing we did for 2021 and certify at a lesser amount to stay true to the $1.55 projection.”
In a newsletter about the levy, the district said the current levy funds had been used during the COVID-19 pandemic to support technology services and devices that allowed for remote and hybrid instruction; imperative nursing services; professional development; and additional staffing to meet students various needs, among other things.
“Now, as students have begun to transition back-to-school for on-campus instruction, the need to prepare for and secure levy funding for the future is necessary,” the newsletter said.
Without the funds, the district would see cuts to programming and support moving forward, it said.
East Valley’s levy
East Valley voters will weigh in on a $13.4 million three-year levy, to be matched by about $2 million in state funds.
The levy is projected to cost taxpayers between $1.97 and $1.95 per $1,000 property value — or a high of $591 a year for a property valued at $300,000. That’s the rate taxpayers saw in 2020, according to the district.
But that’s if property value in the area grows each year. The dollar amount the district is asking of voters each year — which, along with assessed value decides the actual rate — is set to increase: It would be about $4.16 million across all property owners in 2022; $4.5 million in 2023; and nearly $4.75 million in 2024, according to elections office figures.
“As the East Valley area grows, property taxes are spread across a wider tax base, which can result in lower taxes for individual homeowners,” the district says in a levy explainer on its website. But, it concedes, that’s not guaranteed.
The funds would provide “critical funding for student readiness, safety, health and security, enrichment and advanced places courses and extra-curricular activities — music, JROTC, arts, sports and other activities. It also funds early learning and social emotional support services and other unfunded mandates not funded by the state,” according to the district.
If the levy does not pass, the district would lose both the local levy funds and the state matching funds, and would have to reduce “essential enrichment programs currently offered for our students.”
Granger School District is also running a three-year levy at $2,285,000, to be matched with about $1.6 million in state funds.
Broken down by year, it ranges between $715,000 across all property owners and $810,000, election office figures show. The estimated rate of the levy is $1.64 per $1,000 property value — an anticipated $492 per year for a property valued at $300,000.
The district seeks to eliminate learning gaps among students and said the funds would contribute to district programs like transportation, mental health counseling, technology and curriculum, among other things, in a levy explainer on its website.
If the levy is not approved, it said, it would lose local and state matching dollars and eliminate or reduce essential enrichment programs.
Other details of note
Both East Valley and Granger school district websites said, “The district will only collect up to the amount approved by voters.” It is unclear if this is intended to refer to a cap on the levy rate as pitched to voters, rather than the dollar amount approved. District officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Ballots are due by 8 p.m. Feb. 9 — the same time in-person voter registration closes. The deadline for registering or updating information online or by mail is Monday. Results will be certified Feb. 19.