Crews from Neeley Construction continue work Tuesday on the new Covington Elementary School, scheduled to open in the fall. MARK KLAAS, Kent Reporter

Crews from Neeley Construction continue work Tuesday on the new Covington Elementary School, scheduled to open in the fall. MARK KLAAS, Kent Reporter

Kent School District seeks approval of two levies

Measures to fund operations, facility improvements

Voters in Kent will decide whether to approve two levy propositions from the Kent School District on the Feb. 13 ballot.

Proposition No. 1 (Replacement of Expiring Educational Programs and Operations Levy) is for two years (2019, 2020) and would raise a total of $94 million to help fund nearly 20 percent of the district’s overall budget for its more than 27,000 students.

“It funds one in every five of our employees and we have a little more than 3,500 staff,” said Superintendent Calvin Watts in a Jan. 2 report to the Kent City Council about the levies.

The measure would replace the four-year levy voters approved in 2014 with 58 percent in favor. Funds will go toward day-to-day operations, including safety and security at schools, special education, transportation, music, art and athletic programs.

Even with the increased state funding for basic education, Watts said Kent gets 69 percent of its funding from the state, 11 percent from federal and other sources and the remaining 20 percent from local levies. The Kent School Board last month approved sending the two levies to voters.

“We know bake sales do not support every funding measure in the Kent School District,” Watts said. “Funding is a challenge for every school district in the country. We are not alone.”

Kent is one of 16 school districts in King County with measures on the ballot. King County Elections will mail ballots on Jan. 24. Ballots are due Feb. 13.

Proposition No. 2

The second measure is the Technology and Capital Levy, which is for six years and replaces the four-year 2014 tech levy voters approved with 59 percent in favor. Funds will pay for technology improvements and district facility maintenance not covered by the 2016 bond measure approved by voters. The levy will bring in an estimated $146 million over the six years.

”Technology is our future and our mission to prepare all students successfully for the future cannot be realized if tech capital levies are not fully funded,” Watts said.

The measure will help make sure, “all students by 2019 will have a laptop or laptop-like device to provide learning opportunities well after the bell rings at the end of the day or before the bell rings in the morning,” Watts said about the one-to-one computing plan for all students.

Watts said money also is needed for 371 facility maintenance projects.

“I wish I could say all of our facilities are operating at 100 percent efficiency,” he said. “But we have roofs that gain moss and facilities that require constant maintenance, critical repair projects to fund through the levy.”

Several examples include new water lines at 19 sites; new computers to control heating and cooling at 29 sites; new carpeting at several schools that hasn’t been replaced since the late 1980s or early 1990s; stadium seats and lighting upgrades at French Field; and hundreds of other projects. The district plans to post the full list on its website at ksdlevy.org.

In addition to repairs to the interior and exterior of buildings, Watts said classrooms need technology upgrades.

“The modern classroom is in need of change,” Watts said. “Our classrooms have not changed technically much over the last 150 years. We want to do something about that.”

Voters approved a $252 million bond measure in November 2016 to build two new elementary schools, add 20 classrooms at several schools and about 70 other facility improvements. About $160 million of that measure goes to the new schools and added classrooms. Construction is under way on a new Covington Elementary School, scheduled to open in the fall. Funds from the bond also will pay for a new elementary school in the Kent Valley at a site yet to be determined. That school is scheduled to open in 2020, Watts said.

Cost of levies

Even if the levies are approved by voters, property taxes will drop in 2019 compared to 2018. The current levies will cost $4.23 per $1,000 assessed property value in 2018 or about $1,505 per year for a $350,000 house, according to school district documents.

In 2019, the rate would drop to $3.29 per $1,000 assessed property value or about $1,151 per year on a $350,000 house. The taxes would drop again in 2020 to about $1,120 on a $350,000 house.

Watts said district staff and the school board decided to go with just two years on the replacement operations levy in order to see what additional funds the state Legislature comes up with, possibly enough to cover a majority of the costs. Without additional state funds, the district might need to seek voter approval of another replacement levy for 2021.

Property owners also will pay $2.03 per $1,000 assessed value in 2018 to the state for basic funding of education or about $710 on a $350,000 house. That rates goes up to $2.75 in 2019, according to district documents, or about $916 on a $350,000 house.

In addition, most property owners will see their assessed valuation and market values jump in 2018 because of the hot housing market in King County.

Budget problems

The school district faced about a $6.9 million operating deficit last summer before the school board in August approved a $356.7 million general revenue budget for the 2017-2018 school year, which projects the district ending the fiscal year with a $1.2 million fund balance.

School officials balanced the budget by cutting expenditures and instituting hiring and spending freezes. Staff also cut 55 full-time positions and reduced materials, supplies and operating costs.

The board heard during a financial report in December that the district expects to hit the fund balance goal because of cost-saving measures and spending controls.

The budget shortfall occurred because of mistakes in enrollment projections and financial calculations that led to budgeting decisions the district couldn’t support, according to a school spokesman.

What if the measures fail?

If voters turn down the replacement Educational Programs and Operations levy, it will mean the possible loss of one in five employees, and the potential loss of services in music, art, drama and athletic programs, according to district officials.

If the Technology and Capital Levy is not approved, the district will lose funding to continue supporting the current technology resources or replace aged classroom equipment such as computers and laptops. The district also will need to delay repairs or upgrades at school buildings and facilities.

Learn more about the levies online at ksdlevy.org or call the district office at 253-373-7524.

Editor’s Note: This story has been clarified from an earlier version to show that the state property tax for funding of basic education is on $1,000 assessed value.

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