The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Max Erikson
Reporter 

McCleary 'fix' creates new issues

 

September 27, 2017

A funding dilemma may be looming for the Goldendale School District-and many others across the state-in the wake of the Washington State Legislature's new law for school funding, in attempts to address the Washington State Supreme Court's McCleary decision in 2012.

The Court ruled in 2012 the state was not in compliance with the requirements of the state constitution to amply fund public education for the nearly 1.1 million public school students.

The Court has been fining the state $100,000 a day for the past several years-for not being in compliance-to the tune of $84 million.

In June, legislators passed a $7.3 billion education funding package that will go into effect starting in 2018 and go through to 2021. One of the changes lawmakers made was to restrict how much money districts can ask for in school levies.

Before the change in law, the amount of money districts could ask the community for-in local school levies-was determined by the districts to know how much money was needed in local tax dollars to fund basic education, with a large portion of that money supplementing teachers' salaries.

The plan state lawmakers approved in June will now fund school districts with increased property taxes on home owners in all 295 school districts in 2018, with some districts seeing their property taxes go back down in 2019.

Instead of school levies supplementing basic education costs, higher property taxes will foot the bill.

Goldendale's school levy is currently $2.38 for every $1,000 of home property value. For a person with a $100,000 home property value, $238 a year was given to support Goldendale schools.

Now the new funding approach will cap all levy rates-for the entire state-to $1.50 per $1,000 of home value. Goldendale Superintendent Mark Heid says the new cap on levies will potentially cost the district $700,000 in school levy funding.

"It was basically a levy swap," Heid says. "They basically took the money we were generating from our levy; will fund the shortage with higher property taxes, and then give us the money back, but with strings attached...it's a way for the state to say 'see, we have funded it'."

Those "strings attached," Heid says, are funding dollars that are to be used for certain programs for students while potentially not having enough money to fund others, leading to the possible elimination of some staff positions.

Heid says this new plan really didn't do anything other than just move money around, and it didn't generate any new revenue stream for the schools.

"The big issue for us is that our current levy rate pays for 16 teachers' salaries, including counselors, P.E., music, and art programs," Heid says. "We think those subjects are really important to the overall education of our students."

Heid says the current four-year levy-in place for the district now-expires at the end of the year, and a vote for a new levy is set for February. But the uncertainty of the legislature's new funding approach, and if it will be sustainable for districts, is still unknown.

"Right now this is how things are perceived to be happening," Heid says. "Things could be different by February."

Goldendale is not the only district with concerns about this new funding plan. Many districts across the state have filed or are considering filing amicus briefs with the Supreme Court to review the funding plan to see if it is in compliance with the McCleary decision.

"From what I've heard so far, there will be a suit filed on this funding plan," Heid says. "There is just no way the eastside can survive on capping levies at $1.50."

Amicus briefs are petitions filed by interested parties who want the court to review a ruling with the intent of influencing the court to reconsider its findings.

The Supreme Court is scheduled in October to review the new funding plan put forth by state lawmakers to determine if it will actually be in compliance with the McCleary decision.

"This is the biggest hurdle I have seen in 15 years," Heid says. "I have no idea how we can fund the current system with the dollars being sent now."

 

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