Editorial: School levy lid lift could replace state cuts

December 31, 2009

By Contributor

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The Issaquah School District stands to lose $4.9 million in state funding if Gov. Chris Gregoire’s budget is passed through the Legislature as is.Many of the cuts would come from measures designed to reduce class sizes. Under the governor’s budget, all of the district’s $2.1 million in Initiative 728 funding — used to lower class sizes — is eliminated. Another $2.3 million will be cut from the district’s budget through other class-size reductions.

The governor’s budget also proposes taking away teachers’ last professional development day, resulting in a pay cut for remaining teachers, unless the district pays $250,000. Another $146,000 for programs for highly capable students would also disappear.

Last year, the district cut $7.3 million from its budget to make up for the loss in state revenue. Class sizes were increased by one child per classroom, saving $1.8 million. Another $2.2 million was cut from administrative and noncertificated staff positions and nonclassroom-related activities.

Lastly, the district reduced its contribution to the state’s pension program by $2.2 million. The remainder of the money came from the district’s reserve fund and from federal stimulus money — another uncertainty this year.

The Renton School District has made similar cuts.

Gregoire has proposed a maintenance and operations levy lid lift for districts to make up the budget cuts. The Legislature must first approve it.

If Issaquah’s levy cap is lifted just 4 percent, from 24.9 percent to 28.9 percent, the district could recoup about $4 million from taxpayers.

It looks like there will be no getting around the need for a tax increase to get the state through the recession. While there will be some districts that will not gain voter approval for a school levy increase, this may be the best option for a tax increase — and voters will know exactly how the money will be spent.

School districts will not gain from an increase to their maintenance and operations levy — assuming they could get voter approval — but it could keep districts from falling further behind.

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