Mount Vernon levy

The Mount Vernon School District is asking voters to approve a supplemental levy.

MOUNT VERNON — In an attempt to recoup cuts in funding, the Mount Vernon School District is asking voters to approve a supplemental levy in the Nov. 5 general election that will allow it to restore some cuts made earlier this summer.

If approved, the supplemental levy would add to property taxes in the district no more than 79 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value in 2020 and no more than 54 cents in 2021.

The district, like many in the state, has been feeling a budget crunch thanks to what is called the McCleary Fix, in which the state changed the way it funds education.

For the fix, the state temporarily increased the statewide property tax and reduced the amount school districts could collect in levy dollars to either $1.50 per $1,000 in assessed property value or $2,500 per student, whichever was less. In most cases in Skagit County, that meant the former.

Those levies had traditionally been used to fund everything from books to programs to teacher salaries.

Not knowing when or if the Legislature would change requirements on local levies, the two-year replacement educational programs and operations levy Mount Vernon voters approved in February was at the rate of $1.50 per $1,000 in assessed property value.

Under the $1.50 per $1,000 rule, the Mount Vernon School District was only able to collect about $6.4 million. The past EPO levy brought in $15.4 million.

As a result of the decrease — and combined with an increase in teacher salaries — the district had to make about $3.5 million in cuts this summer to make ends meet, including cutting teaching positions, closing two of its after-school family support centers and cuts in athletics.

“That reduction has hurt us,” Superintendent Carl Bruner said.

The state later increased the amount districts could collect to either $2.50 per $1,000 in assessed property value or $2,500 per student whichever was less. This allowed the Mount Vernon School District to pull back on about $1 million in cuts.

Despite the good that did for the district’s bottom line, Bruner said the district has been vocal with legislators about its opposition to the increased levy lid.

“We had been opposed to raising the levy cap, even though we knew it would be better for the school district,” he said. “We did not think it would be fair to Mount Vernon taxpayers. The whole purpose of McCleary was to shift the burden from local taxpayers to the state. Now we’re shifting it back — not as much — to local taxpayers.”

With this supplemental levy, the district is asking to raise its lid to the $2.50 amount, meaning it could bring in roughly $6 million additionally over the next two years

If approved, the district could restore student academic and behavioral supports, decrease class sizes in the middle and high schools and purchase new reading and science curricula.

“It will restore (the cuts), just not in its entirety,” Executive Director of Finance Jennifer Larson said.

If approved, taxpayers would be paying up to a total of $7.67 per $1,000 in assessed property to the district in 2020, and $7.54 in 2021, according to district numbers.

Those figures include the $2.45 per $1,000 in state tax for schools and a voter-approved technology and security levy. That equates to a $237 increase to a home valued at $300,000 in 2020 and $162 for that same-valued home in 2021.

In comparison, in 2019, with a lower technology and security levy and no supplemental levy, property owners paid $6.28 per $1,000 in assessed property value to the district, including the state schools tax.

Even if approved, voters would still be paying less toward education than they were before the so-called McCleary fix. In 2018, taxpayers were paying $8.70 per $1,000 in assessed property value.

If not approved, Larson said the district’s budget would remain how it is.

“And we’d be in the same boat next year,” Bruner said.

— Reporter Kera Wanielista: 360-416-2141, kwanielista@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Kera_SVH, facebook.com/KeraReports

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