Both school levies primed to pass

Residents voted on two preplacement levies for operations not covered by state funds, technology and programs in Tacoma Public Schools. Photo courtesy of Tacoma Schools

Tacoma voters have seemingly approved both Tacoma School District levies that will fund school programs and enhancements.

Proposition 1 is a four-year Replacement Educational Programs and Operations levy that will fund day-to-day operations that are not covered by state funding, add funds for special education, enhance arts, music and athletic programs, help maintain school buildings as well as provide more funding for anti-bullying programs. The $70 million levy replaces one that is expiring this year, and is passing with 62.91 percent of the vote, according to early returns.

Proposition 2 is a six-year technology levy that will expand student access to technology and provide up-to-date tools for teaching for the careers of tomorrow. The levy would generate about $24 million a year. The levy is passing with 62.36 percent of the vote.

The vote count will change as ballots are counted through next week, but statistically aren’t expected to alter the outcomes when they are certified on Feb. 23. Voter turn out was only 20.29 percent in the mail-only balloting, with only 25,098 ballots turned in so far from the 123,974 registered voters in the district, according to election figures.

Combined, the levies will cost the average homeowner about $915 a year.

Property owners currently pay $4.59 per $1,000 in property value, which breaks down to $4.11 for educational, athletic programs and teacher salaries and $0.48 for technology. The rise of new construction spreads the levy costs over more properties, meaning the new cost of local school funding programs from the levies will be $3.52 per $1,000 once both levies officially pass. For the owner of a median-priced home of $260,000, the actual tax payment will decrease by an average of $278 per year over the next four years. That’s compared to the $1,193 average homeowners pay now.

Both levies were renewals of similar 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 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 district dipped into its reserve to fund $5 million rather than cut programs to cover the gap from the state.

The replacement levies came 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 factory” 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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