GUEST OPINION – IS THE STATE ADEQUATELY FUNDING OUR SCHOOLS?

BY GLENN HARRIS

Special to the Sounder

Having worked in public education for over 25 years, I thought I had seen most things come through our schools during the last three decades. But nothing in my career has prepared me for the awakening I have received upon returning to Washington State and discovered the school funding crisis that exists. I am not one to write and share my opinion – but the funding of our public schools borders on purposeful neglect with our government.

Do you know that Washington’s schools and education associations have tried virtually everything to get the legislature to rise up and fully fund our public schools as deemed in our state constitution? Yet, education funding is simply ignored year after year while the crisis continues to worsen. At present, our schools have turned to the courts in hopes that one branch of the government will awake and truly see what is happening to our children’s future. Below is a current lawsuit seeking to begin a remedy for education’s funding woes:

Fair School Funding (Federal Way S.D. v. State of Washington) seeks to provide fair funding for our schools. In a recent court ruling by Judge Heavy, the court states, “Within a general and uniform system of public schools the legislature could… rationally create different funding levels that stem from differences in educational costs. However, the disparities in the current system are not based on the cost of providing educational opportunity in any district… The plaintiffs have shown proof beyond a reasonable doubt that school districts are funded at disparate levels; that the different levels are based upon an unconstitutionally funded system of 30 years ago. There is no rational reason to continue this. This violates the general and uniform requirement of our constitution… this court finds that basing the funding levels on salary levels of 30 years ago is arbitrary and wholly irrelevant to the achievement of legitimate state objectives…. They violate the equal protection rights of students, teachers and taxpayers.” The state is currently appealing this ruling in Washington State Supreme Court. What does it say to you, when our own state refuses to recognize and directly fights the right for our children to have fair and appropriate funding to meet their needs?

Our Orcas Island School District, in spite of the educational funding crisis, continues to be one of the top districts in the state. This is truly because of the wonderful local support this community has shown over the years toward its schools. On February 19th, of this year the district will be seeking a levy to continue the local support of our schools. Below is a fact sheet to assist you in learning and making an informed decision regarding proposed levy.

Levy facts

For Orcas Island School District Voters: On Feb. 19, 2008, you will be asked to vote on a levy proposal put forth by the Orcas Island School District. The levy is the Maintenance and Operations levy (M&O) which provides approximately 20 percent of the district’s operating budget for 2009 through 2011. We are currently operating under the levy, which was approved by voters in February 2006.

Commonly

asked questions:

1. WHAT IS A SCHOOL LEVY? It is a voter-approved tax placed on real property and collected over a specific period. The levy provides the necessary funding to make up the difference between the cost of the educational programming the community desires, and what the State of Washington and the Federal government fund.

2. IS THIS LEVY ADDED TO THE LEVY APPROVED IN 2006?

No! The Maintenance and Operations levy proposal replaces the last levy.

3. IS A LEVY THE SAME AS A BOND?

No! A levy is for maintenance and operation only. A bond is for capital improvements. The district is currently not asking for another bond.

4. WHY A TWO-YEAR LEVY?

The Orcas Island School District Governing Board feels it is in the best interest of the district, and the community, to propose a two-year levy at this point in time.

5. HOW WILL THE MAINTENANCE AND OPERATIONS MONEY BE USED?

Historically, Maintenance and Operations (M&O) funding has been used for many items in the schools’ budgets. Some examples are:

• Certificated staffing to keep classes small

• Supplementing special education instruction

• Extra-curricular activities, both athletic and non-athletic

• Maintaining and improving Buck Park

• Teacher in-service and continuing education

• Supplies, utilities, insurance, etc.

• Supplementing Title I and the Learning Assistance Program for children who are in need of additional support.

• Textbook and curriculum adoptions

• Audits and elections required by law

• Health screenings for elementary children

• Capital improvements to maintain the facilities

In the next two years, the M&O funding will be used for:

• Certificated staffing to assist in keeping general education class sizes small.

• Supplementing special education program

• Extra-curricular activities, both athletic and non-athletic

– Maintaining and improving district grounds and aging facilities.

• Supplies, utilities (water, electrical, fuel, sewer), insurance, etc.

• Supplementing Title I, the Learning Assistance, and Bilingual Program for children who are in need of additional support.

• Health screenings for elementary children

• Ongoing textbook and curriculum adoptions

6. WHAT IS THE M&O LEVY PROPOSAL?

Voters will be asked to vote on a two-year maintenance and operation levy that, if approved, will provide the Orcas Island School District, with $1,150,000 in 2009, and $1,250,000 in 2010. These increases will assist in providing the funding for the maintenance and operations of the current facilities as described above.

7. WHAT WILL THESE LEVIES COST DISTRICT TAXPAYERS?

The tax rate for the current levy approved by the voters in 2006 for collection

– In 2007, is 58 cents per $1000 of assessed valuation

– In 2008, will be 60 cents per $1000 of assessed valuation

The estimated tax rate for the 2008 proposed school levy for collection

– In 2009, will be 51 cents per $1000 of assessed valuation

– In 2010, will be 53 cents per $1000 of assessed valuation

If you own property worth $100,000, your special levy tax would be $51 in 2009 and $53 in 2010.

8. ARE ALL PROPERTY OWNERS SUBJECT TO THE LEVY?

No, some property owners may qualify for exemption from special levy property taxes:

– The applicant must be disabled or must be 61 years old by December 31 of the year in which application is made.

– The applicant must principally occupy the property for six months out of the year in, which the, “application” is made.

• For 100 percent levy exemption, annual, income cannot exceed $28,000:

• Additional regular property taxes are reduced if income is less than $18,000.

• Tax exemptions apply to the house or mobile home and up to one acre of land; additional acreage is assessed at regular rates.

Applications for tax exemptions may be made at the County Assessor’s office in the Courthouse in Friday Harbor.

9. WHERE DOES THE MONEY COME FROM TO FUND PUBLIC EDUCATION?

In 2006-2007, money to fund education on Orcas Island came from the following sources:

Federal: $467,203 – 9.07 percent

State: $3,454,314 – 67.10 percent

Local: $1,171,166 – 22.73 percent

Other: $56,325 – 1.09 percent (Revenue from other agencies)

Approximately 80 percent of the local revenues came from tax collections authorized by the current levy, which was approved by voters in the 2006 election. The remaining income came primarily from transportation and food service operations, grants and facility rentals. About 5 percent of local funds came from private donations in 06-07.

It is important to note that approximately $250,000.00 was donated to support key instructional programs by private donors throughout the community. These revenues are accounted for and utilized in the 2007-2008 school year. Without the additional donations beyond levy funding several programs for students would have been reduced.

10. WHEN AND WHERE TO VOTE: Currently ballots in San Juan County are mail ballots.

11. OTHER QUESTIONS?

Call us at the Orcas Island School District administrative office at 376-2284. We will be happy to answer your questions.

Glenn Harris is Superintendent of the Orcas Island School District.