SPOKANE, Wash. — Washington state lawmakers agreed to raise the cap on local levies for school districts but it may not be an immediate fix for districts facing budget deficits.
The decision comes after weeks of debate about the state's new funding model. Districts around Washington claim to have budget shortfalls due in part due to a limit put on the amount of money districts can generate from local taxes.
Washington state lawmakers agreed to raise the levy cap from $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value to $2.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value. Districts will be allowed to ask voters for more money to fill in gaps where there is a lack of state funding.
The tax money collected from supplemental levies can be used for salaries and special programs.
Some school district officials speculate the raised cap will have little effect on the 2019-2020 school year’s funding.
Spokane Public Schools Spokesman Brian Coddington said the district does not plan on recalling any of its 325 layoff notices.
"We’ve been very conservative and transparent in this process. We are still in the process of trying to sift through the state budget,” Coddington said.
He said the district will spend the next four months looking at the budget and will authorize it by the end of August.
Mead School District leaders have proposed cuts, which include the closure of Riverpoint Academy for two years. The award-winning STEM high school is on the chopping block along with other programs to reduce the district's $12 million deficit.
Assistant Superintendent Wayne Leonard said they do not see anything in the new levy legislation that will provide immediate relief for the next school year.
"The lift in the levy cap may help in future years. If the board decides to run an increased levy and it is supported by the community it would help in the 2020-21 school year," Leonard said.
The West Valley School District announced cuts to staff and programs earlier this month. The district plans to cut about 40 positions, mainly through resignations and retirement. There are also planned cuts to extracurricular activities and other programs.
According to a West Valley School District spokesperson, the soonest they would be able to ask voters for a funding boost from a supplemental levy is November 2019. However, it would not fund the district's budget until April 2020.
"There are several factors to be considered in running a supplemental levy and the decision about doing that has not been made. It is ultimately a school board decision," West Valley School District Spokesperson Sue Shields said.
The Central Valley School District has not announced official cuts but the district faces a $12 million deficit. District leaders recently declared a financial emergency to prepare for budget cuts if they are needed.
"We will continue to evaluate the decisions that were made, but there is nothing that changes our assumptions for next year's budget at this time,” Central Valley School District Spokesperson Marla Nunberg wrote in an email.
Spokane Public Schools proposed cutting 325 staff positions, including 182 teachers for the next school year. Spokane school leaders report losing $43 million in local levy revenue for the 2019-2020 school year.
A district spokesperson said it is too early in the budgeting process to know how the raised cap will affect the budget discussion.
“Our next step will be to understand the detailed impacts of the legislative actions finalized very late last night. We will take some time to understand the new local levy authority and present that information to the school board for discussion and consideration as part of our regular budget process,” Spokane Public Schools Spokesperson Brian Coddington wrote in an email.