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Ballots hit mailboxes this week asking local voters to decide on replacing an expiring four-year school levy.

The Educational Programs & Operations levy would amount to $1.70 per $1,000 of assessed property value. That would keep the district’s total tax burden at about $3.29, below the $3.51 the School Board has promised voters. The total $3.29 per $1,000 rate includes a Facilities and Technology Levy and the bond for the new high school campus.

In all, a tax bill on a $400,000 home would equate to about $1,280 a year going to the school district — about the same as the current tax bill.

This is the fourth ballot measure for local schools in five years. Ballots are due Feb. 11.

“We wanted to stagger them. This way, taxes stay steady,” Superintendent Jean Shumate said. “That’s what voters told us they wanted, so we scheduled things to replace levies, not increase them.”

John Russell, chairman of the Citizens for Stanwood-Camano Schools group, said the future of the community is dependent on how we prepare the generations that follow.

“It’s important that we continue to support our students,” he said. “Even after last year’s legislation in Olympia, a good portion of the funding for our local schools are still dependent on local levies.”

Because of the recent McCleary court decision, the state shifted districts from relying heavily on local levies to a more state-centric funding model.

In 2016, about 66% of the Stanwood-Camano voters approved renewing a four-year maintenance and operations levy. In 2017, the district collected the levy at $2.19 per $1,000 of assessed property value. That measure was about 23% of the district’s incoming money — $11.7 million — that year.

In the 2018-19 school year — a transition period — the state instituted a property tax to meet the court requirement that the state fund basic education. Then the state limited the amount local districts could collect from their levies to $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value.

In spring 2019, the state Legislature raised the cap on local school levies from $1.50 to $2.50 per $1,000 in assessed property value or to a level that would raise $2,500 per pupil, whichever path leads to lower levy rates.

Stanwood-Camano falls into the $2,500-per-student category, meaning that in 2020 — the final year of the existing levy — the district is limited to collecting about $10.3 million, which amounts to about 14% of the district’s incoming money.

“That 14% is a large part of our operating budget,” Shumate said. About 89% of the school budget pays for teachers and staff.

If the levy fails, the district would create a Reduce Education Program Plan to help decide how to trim staff, programs and/or materials, while also likely gearing up to retry the levy on April 28, Shumate said.

“This is not extra money we’re asking for,” she said. “This is critical. It touches every person, every department, every school.”

Contact reporter Evan Caldwell at ecaldwell@scnews.com and follow him on Twitter @Evan_SCN for updates throughout the week and on Instagram @evancaldwell.scn for more photos.

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