By Debra Kolrud
It’s that time again when the Monroe School District (MSD) looks to voters to approve additional funding via the Maintenance and Operation Levy (M&O). Before voting, here’s some important information to consider:
Washington state school districts have become the beneficiary of the “McCleary decision”, which mandates our state to “fully fund” education and increases K-12 funding through 2018. In Washington, public school funding comes from state and federal taxes as well as locally approved property taxes (M&O). Washington State’s first “McCleary decision” down payment was over $1 billion dollars of new money, increasing the budgets of all K-12 school districts, including MSD that received an increase of over $3.9 million ($600 more per student).
Many are questioning why districts like Monroe continue to seek the maximum M&O levy amount allowable by law when in fact, the state has paid them considerable money to reduce their reliance on local property taxes. Local taxpayers want to know: where’s the reduction to their property school taxes from that $1 billion from the state?
Currently MSD is in the top 20 percent of highest local property school tax rates in the state. MSD taxpayers come in at 61 out of 295 Washington State school districts! MSD total tax rate is $5.63 per thousand dollars of assessed property value compared to the state average of $4.44, or 27 percent higher than the state average!
The February 11 MSD ballot will once again ask voters to increase their taxes. The four-year M&O levy totals $66 million, increasing the current year $14 million to $18 million in 2018. If approved the M&O will have almost doubled (91 percent) in ten years, even though enrollment in our traditional schools has decreased by more than 350 students!
M&O levies in Monroe have steadily increased, however traditional student enrollment (TSE) in our schools are down to 1999 levels; in 2004 M&O levy was $34.7 million (four-year levy) for 5,363 TSE, in 2008 M&O levy increased to $53.1 million (four-year) for 5,414 TSE, and in 2012 the M&O levy was for $31.9 million (two-year) for 5,032 TSE. This current levy ballot is for $66 million (four-year) with 5,063 TSE.
With fewer students and increased state funding, people are rightfully questioning the amount of this levy. While there are a multitude of questions they boil down to the following.
1) Why doesn’t the M&O levy request reflect a reduction instead of an increase due to the influx of more state dollars and the decrease in enrollment of traditional student enrollment (currently at 1999 levels)?
2) Questions over fiscal responsibility. The last two years the school board over spent their board’s budget by $1 million, including spending over $2.5 million on a disputed lease contract, tax dollars that should have been spent in the classroom. The superintendent salary (excluding MSD monthly annuity contribution) is amongst the top 8 percent highest superintendent salaries in the state, coming in at 23rd out of 295 school districts, making more than our governor.
Voters should be aware that if this levy is rejected, the district has the opportunity to reconsider the levy amount requested before placing a more reasonable levy ballot back before the voters a second time that year.
Debra Kolrud was a member of the Monroe School District Board of Directors from 2007 to 2011.