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    School Levies are Critical
    Posted on 01/24/2019
    Graphic with text "They asked, we answered. Read our response to the Seattle Times.

    The Seattle Times asked us a series of questions about our Feb. 12 levies and school funding in a Jan. 8 editorial. We answered them and submitted our response on Jan. 10. The Times is not going to publish our response, but we think this information is important for our parents, staff, and community to read.

    Seattle Public Schools is asking voters to consider two replacement levies in the Feb. 12 election — an Educational Programs and Operations Levy (EP&O) and the Building Excellence V Capital Levy.

    These levy renewals are critical to supporting the school district’s day-to-day operations and building needs, including the rebuilding of eight schools, safety improvements at all schools, removing portables, and adding new technology to classrooms. These levies directly support students’ high-quality public education.

    While we believe in the importance of these local voter-approved levies for our students, staff, and schools, it’s clear the Seattle Times editorial board is opposed to our Feb. 12 EP&O levy. We want to correct the misinformation presented by the Seattle Times editorial board. Here are our answers to the list of questions the Times published:

    Q: Equity is a stated priority of the district. Why is the district pushing to return to a school-funding approach that creates inequity, especially for less wealthy districts?
    A: This question presumes state education funding is both equitable and ample. That is not the case. Seattle Public Schools has been working with legislators consistently and there have been great improvements in how districts are funded. Equity doesn’t mean all districts should be pushed down to the same level. Until the Legislature fulfills the promise of equity and ample, it is imperative for Seattle to ask voters to personally support adequate funding of our local schools.

    Q: Housing affordability is a major challenge. Property owners just received a 17 percent tax increase, on average, largely to fund the state’s basic education program. Why should they pay more for this locally?
    A: We do not take our ask of taxpayers and neighbors lightly. However, we are asking for what is needed to continue the level of service our students deserve, and families expect. The majority of new state property taxes paid by Seattle property owners are distributed to districts in other parts of Washington. Local levy dollars stay in our district, and we need that funding to make up the difference between what the state funds and what our students need.

    Q: How much of the operations levy is for basic education, that the state should fund, and how much is for extras that are legal under McCleary?
    A: All services and supports included in the EP&O levy are allowable, as approved by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. For example, the state only funds nine nurses for our nearly 53,000 students. This year, we employed 63 to fill the gap, with much of that funding coming from our local voter-approved levy.

    Q: If the state’s definition of basic education has flaws, and isn’t covering essentials, why not work to change that definition so every school district and student benefits, not just those in property-rich Seattle?
    A: It took a lawsuit filed against the state and 10 years of advocacy to get our state legislature to increase funding for K-12 education. If the legislature followed their own studies and voter-approved Initiative 1351, SPS would receive funding for another 800 staff. Since that is not what happened, we must have levy support from local taxpayers to help bridge the gap.

    Q: If the district is facing a financial shortfall, why did it approve 10 percent raises last year? Educators must be well-paid, but wouldn’t it have been prudent to provide a smaller raise?
    A: The new state funding gave a net increase of 11 percent. We value our educators and used that increase for teacher compensation.

    Q: Lawmakers say they’ll fully fund special education this year. Won’t that resolve much of the district’s budget problems?
    A: If the Legislature acts to fund the actual special education shortage amount - $72 million a year for our schools, it would greatly help. For SPS, the state funds $68 million a year for special education services. We need $140 million a year to meet our students’ needs and fulfill state requirements. Current state proposals for added special education funding are not even close to making up the difference.

    These are complex issues. The truth is, the McCleary fix is not complete. In the meantime, the only tool school districts have to bridge the funding gap is a local levy. We wish we could agree with the editorial board’s optimism that school funding challenges are close to a fix. However, there is too much at stake. Our students deserve better. Our state’s future requires better.

    We invite readers to visit our School Levies webpage to learn more.

    Superintendent Denise Juneau
    School Board President, Leslie Harris
    School Board Vice-President, Rick Burke
    School Board Member at Large, Zachary DeWolf