Opinion: Selah, Toppenish school levies are easy calls

Voters in Selah and Toppenish are making a choice Tuesday, and in both cases, it’s a pretty easy one.

The two communities’ school districts are asking patrons to approve levies that would help pay for a range of programs to enhance basic education and operations. They both need a simple majority — 50% of the votes cast plus one — to pass.

Neither measure raises patrons’ tax rates. And in both cases, a key incentive for a yes vote is in play: millions of dollars in state matching funds.

Selah’s two-year $7.45 million levy — estimated to cost taxpayers $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value — would go toward sports, technology, safety and teaching materials, among other things. Rejection of the levy, on the other hand, would mean cuts to athletic programs at Selah High School and Selah Middle School, administrators say.

The district scaled back its request after voters said no to a two-year $7.7 million levy in February. If the current request is denied, the district can’t ask for another levy for the rest of the year.

In Toppenish, school officials are asking for a four-year $8.9 million levy that would pay for arts programs, technology, robotics and safety. It would also help cover graduation specialists, extra classroom support, field trips and maintenance.

And the proposal would actually mean lower tax rates across the district, Superintendent John Cerna told Yakima Herald-Republic reporter Janelle Retka earlier this month.

Why? Because approval of Toppenish’s levy would mean about $24 million in state matching funds over the life of the levy.

Currently, Toppenish taxpayers are paying on a 20-year bond, a 10-year capital improvements levy from 2019 and an expiring operations levy.

But with that $24 million from the state — and thanks to something of a loophole in Washington law — the district could funnel some of those matching funds back toward bond payments and cut the overall local tax bill.

The bottom line: Toppenish property tax rates would drop from about $6.93 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to roughly $4.88 per $1,000, the district figures.

Look, if you graduated from either one of these fine school districts, you’ve obviously got the math skills to see that both these levies are no-brainers.

Without raising taxes, they’re bringing in busloads of money that’d just go somewhere else in the state if these districts can’t claim it.

If you want your kids to have the same — or better — quality of education that taxpayers helped provide for you, it’s time to pass it along. If you want to see schools get students back on track after all the setbacks they’ve endured throughout this pandemic, this is a great step.

And if you want to keep our community thriving by making sure we have a reliable line of qualified future leaders, voting yes by 8 p.m. Tuesday is the least you can do.