Voters turning down Kent School District levies

No votes at 51 percent

Residents rally support for the Kent school levies. COURTESY PHOTO, Citizens for Kent Schools

Residents rally support for the Kent school levies. COURTESY PHOTO, Citizens for Kent Schools

Kent School District voters were narrowly rejecting Tuesday night both ballot propositions to replace expiring levies.

Proposition No. 1 (Replacement of Expiring Educational Programs and Operations Levy) had 51.14 percent no (10,086 votes) to 48.86 percent yes (9,637 votes. Proposition No. 2 (Technology and Capital Levy) had 51.61 percent no (9,445 votes) to 48.39 percent yes (8,855 votes), according to special election results released Tuesday night by King County Elections.

King County Elections will update counts each weekday until the election is certified Feb. 23. King County Elections forecast a voter turnout of 34 percent countywide. The Kent School District has 90,973 registered voters.

Kent is one of 16 school districts in the county with measures on the ballot. Voters in the county are approving most school levies, including measures in nearby Federal Way and Highline, but three propositions are failing in the Tahoma School District (Maple Valley).

Kent’s Proposition No. 1 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 would fund about one in every five of the more than 3,500 employees in the district.

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

Proposition No. 2 is for six years. 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. The measure will help make sure each student by 2019 has a laptop or laptop-like device and fund 371 facility maintenance projects from new water pipes to new carpet.

If the levies are approved by voters, property taxes will drop in 2019 compared to 2018. The previously passed 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.

Kent voters approved a replacement levy in 2014 with 58 percent and a tech levy with 59 percent. Voters also approved a $252 million bond measure with 62 percent in favor in November 2016 after the proposal failed to get 60 percent of the vote in April 2016.

Kent has had budget woes in the past year. 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 blamed the deficit on a miscalculation of enrollment projections.

Property taxes in the city of Kent will jump about 15.4 percent this year, primarily due to additional taxes passed by the state Legislature to increase funding for K-12 basic education, according to the King County tax assessor. The Legislature added $1.01 per thousand dollars of assessed value, in King County, to their portion of property tax collection in order to fund the state Supreme Court mandate (also known as the McCleary Plan).

Even with the increased state funding for basic education, the district 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 approved sending the two levies to voters.

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