Two levies set for special ballot next month

Residents will vote on two replacement levies for technology and programs in Tacoma Public Schools. Photo courtesy of Tacoma Schools

Tacoma voters will have a chance to decide on two levies on the Feb. 13 ballot for school programs and enhancements.

“These two levy packages were developed with the help of our community, identifying priorities for our students to continue to meet our goal of ensuring success for every student, every day,” Superintendent Carla Santorno said when the levies were announced. “We are grateful to the Tacoma community for the past support of our levies, which have helped us dramatically increase graduation rates, ensure students have the technology and support they need for success and for us to continue to hire and retain high quality teachers.”

A four-year Replacement Educational Programs and Operations levy would provide funding for day-to-day operations that are not covered by state funding, add funds for special education, enhance arts, music and athletic programs and help maintain school buildings. A six-year technology levy would expand student access to technology and provide up-to-date tools for teaching for the careers of tomorrow. The operational levy would generate about $70 million to $76 million while the technology levy would generate about $24 million a year at a combined cost of $915 a year for the average homeowner.

Property owners currently pay $4.59 per $1,000 in property value, which breaks down to $4.11 for educational, athletic programs and teach salaries and $0.48 for technology. The rise of property values and new construction would be $3.52 per $1,000 if both levies pass. For the owner of a median-priced home of $260,000, the actual tax payment would decrease by an average of $277 per year over next four years compared to the $1,193 the average homeowner pays now.

Both levies are renewals of packages voters approved in 2014. Tacoma receives about 65 percent of its funding from the state and another 13 percent from federal and other sources. That leaves the district relying on voter-approved levies or bonds approved for about 22 percent of its budget. Those percentage are likely to get more locally focused in the coming years since the state’s formula for public education actually reduces funding for Tacoma Public Schools. Starting this year, Tacoma will receive less state money for students and teachers and will lose flexibility to pay for its teachers and programs.

The replacement levies are coming at a time when Tacoma’s graduation rate has reached 86.1 percent – the highest since the state began officially tracking the statistic in 2003 and the seventh straight year of gains, according to data submitted to the state by Tacoma Public Schools. The gain in student achievement started in 2012, when the school district had a graduation rate of just 61.7 percent. The district set the goal of graduating at least 85 percent of its students by 2020, which was an aggressive goal considering it was labelled a “dropout factories” just years earlier when it had a 55 percent graduation rate. The district’s graduation rate now exceeds the statewide average graduation rate by a record 7 percent.

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  1. I am reluctant to approve a school levy if the district moves ahead with teaching gender identity and has no formal math curriculum.

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