Opinion

School levies put money where it's best needed | Prescott

By Cindy Prescott
For the Kent Reporter

Whenever the issue of taxes comes up, there are sure to be strong opinions.

In fact, in the Feb. 7 Kent Reporter, a letter to the editor, "Where is the district's financial accountability?," expressed those strong opinions.

As a fourth-grade teacher who is on leave to take on the responsibilities of the Kent Education Association presidency, I also have strong opinions about levies and taxes. I wanted to share some additional information about levies and the Kent School District (KSD).

One question asked in the letter to the editor was about the nonprofit organization Citizens for Kent Schools, which put out promotional materials and held activities for the Kent community about the levy that just passed on Feb. 11 in the special election. The nonprofit organization is a group of citizens who feel strongly that support for our local schools is important. Some members are from the community and some are teachers or school district employees. But all are working as private citizens for a cause they believe in during their personal time.

Another question that was asked was about the flyer that Citizens for Kent Schools put out, stating the levy provided funds for one in five teachers in our award-winning classrooms. Education funding is complicated and it may not be widely known that state and federal funding to the school district does not cover all expenses. Many states find themselves in similar situations, and in this case, local levies are run to help bridge the gap. This is the case in the KSD.

Additionally, our brochure listed programs that could be restored with the passage of the levy. The author of the letter to the editor misunderstood and thought these programs exist presently in our school district. He thought they would then be cut if the levy didn't pass. In fact, these programs, fifth-grade band and orchestra, and elementary counselors and librarians, have already became victims of the Great Recession and lost their line item in the Kent School District budget.

The recession has resulted in 35 of the 48 states surveyed by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities providing less per pupil funding for K-12 education in 2013 than they did in the fiscal year of 2008. Local school districts, such as Kent, have little ability to replace state aid. Thus, levies become necessary.

Last, and most important, is the point in the letter about the state Legislature coming up with an additional one billion dollars for education in the last session. Part of the one billion dollars was the savings the state realized in not funding smaller class sizes, called for by the passage of a citizen initiative several years ago. This is not the same as spending.

The amount from the pseudo billion dollars that came to the Kent School District ($19.9 million) was spent on funding such programs as full-day Kindergarten, transportation and special education.

If local levies don't pass, the loss of funds for the school district impact such things as music and athletics programs, as well as personnel. One in every five teaching positions is funded through local funds, and the loss of personnel will increase class size as well.

Remember, the local Kent levies, while they vary some in amount levied, are replacement levies. The Kent School District, for example, would lose about $60 million dollars from its budget without the availability of levy funds.

And ultimately, where is this money going? It's going into classrooms, teachers and programs for your children and mine, your grandchildren and mine, and to educate members of the younger generation who will be the citizens that run our government and community.

In my opinion, that's the best reason to vote yes on levies for schools.

Cindy Prescott is president of the Kent Education Association. A Kent resident for 20 years, she has been teaching in the Kent School District for 15 years. Her four children have attended Kent schools.

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