Levy cliff would leave $4.1 million hole in 2017-18 budget | Mukilteo Schools

By Marci Larsen, Superintendent | Feb 08, 2017

The lawmakers in Olympia are dealing with several issues that will have a big impact on the students who attend school in Mukilteo, as well as throughout this state. The State Supreme Court’s ruling in the McCleary case, for instance, requires the state Legislature to fully fund public education by next year. How the Legislature deals with that subject will get a lot of attention in the months to come.

Another education issue that has already received some notice in the local media is called the levy cliff. What I want to provide for you today is a little background on just what that is and how it might impact your Mukilteo School District.

The money that operates the school district comes from three sources. The state provides about two-thirds of our revenue to pay the cost of basic education, The federal government’s contributions for food programs and to support low-income students total less than 10 percent of our revenues. The rest is funded through a local tax levy. Here in Mukilteo, that funding currently comes from a four-year levy that was approved by voters in 2014.

According to state law, a school district can’t collect more than 24 percent of its local revenues through the local tax levy. But when the economy was bad and the state was cutting school budgets back in 2010, the state granted school districts a temporary increase in that levy lid to 28 percent. At the time, the Legislature promised that it would be fully funding education by 2018, so that increase in the levy lid was set to expire on January 1, 2018.

Fast forward to today and the Legislature is still trying to figure out how to fully fund public education, even despite the Supreme Court ruling that requires them to do that by next year. Meanwhile, the reduction in the levy lid back to 24 percent is fast approaching. We estimate the change would reduce our revenues for the 2017-18 budget by about $4.1 million. For the 2018-19 budget, it would cause a $7.1 million decrease.

As things stand now, we have no idea what the Legislature will do to satisfy the McCleary ruling and fully fund public education. That’s a debate that will go deep into this year’s Legislative session and likely into special sessions that will follow. The experts tell us we’ll be lucky to have a decision by June. What’s more, even if the Legislature comes up with a clear and thorough solution, that solution will likely need to be phased-in over time.

School districts can’t wait that long. We have already started developing our 2017-18 operating budget and, to meet our obligations, we’ll need the answers to some important spending questions before the Legislature will have completed its work. What’s more, and maybe more importantly, there is a state requirement that school districts commit themselves to next year’s employment contracts with teachers by May 15.

The state House of Representatives has already passed a bill that would help resolve that problem. In a 62-35 vote about two weeks ago, the House passed HB 1059, which grants a one-year extension to the levy lid. Six of our school district’s representatives in the House voted in favor, including Lillian Ortiz-Self (D-Mukilteo), Strom Peterson (D-Edmonds), Mike Sells (D-Everett), June Robinson (D-Everett), John Lovick (D-Mill Creek) and Mark Harmsworth (R-Mill Creek).

The bill now goes to the Senate, where we are told the reception may not be as favorable. We hope, however, that state lawmakers will do something soon to prevent school districts from falling over that so-called levy cliff.

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