SCHOOLS | School district’s four-year levy vote approaches

South Kitsap School District officials are expected to mail out campaign fliers next week to voters as they gear up for the Feb. 12 four-year maintenance-and-operation renewal levy.

The current levy, which was passed in 2009 with 57.6 percent of the vote, expires Dec. 31, 2013. That means the new collection rate would begin midway through the 2013-14 school year. A simple majority of more than 50 percent is required to pass.

Property owners would pay an estimated $3.75 per $1,000 of assessed property value during the first year of the levy. That would be $756 in 2014 for a $200,000 home, which is an increase from an estimated $636 this year. Actual levy rates will depend on whether property value projections by the Kitsap County auditor come to fruition. Those projections were used in calculating levy rate estimates.

The levy collection amounts of $22 million in 2014 and $22.5 million in ’15 are expected to reach SKSD’s estimated levy lid. Sandy Rotella, the district’s chief financial operations officer, said that is because the district will collect all of its building maintenance funding during those two years. In October, school board member Kathryn Simpson said that is because SKSD wanted to take advantage of lower labor costs. Rotella said district officials plan projects, including addressing failing roofs at Olalla and Sidney Glen elementary schools and South Kitsap High School, along with various jobs ranging from fire alarms to flooring.

Without building maintenance in 2016 and ’17, collection amounts of $22.65 million each year are less than the estimated lids.

Estimated levy rates in 2015, 2016 and 2017 are $3.91, $3.90 and $3.86 per thousand.

Rates for other Kitsap County school districts in 2012 ranged from $3.20 per $1,000 assessed (Bainbridge Island) to $4.61 (Central Kitsap). All districts except SKSD have bond and/or capital project levies in addition to maintenance-and-operations levies.

Rotella said school board members contemplated a bond measure, but feared burdening taxpayers. SKSD last put a bond issue before voters in 2007. At that time, district officials asked for a $163.2 million capital-facilities bond that would have paid for a new high school, rebuilt South Colby Elementary and improved technology infrastructure, roofing, heating and cooling systems, and physical education and athletic programs. It failed by about eight-percentage points of the required 60 percent to pass.

“We as a district are going to have to have some serious conversations about facilities over the next several years,” Simpson said in October. “It can’t be put off.”

Facilities are not the only issue, though. Rotella said SKSD is using $1.6 million in reserves to meet its operating budget for this school year. She said even a successful levy won’t be enough to change that.

“The levy is just not big enough,” she said. “There are still difficult conversation to be had.”

In October, Simpson described the levy as a “bridge” to a new model. She was referring to the Washington Supreme Court’s January ruling in McCleary v. Washington. In that decision, the court ruled that the state has failed to meet its constitutional duty to fully fund basic education. The court, which also retained jurisdiction until 2018, decided to require the Legislature to report annually about its progress toward meeting the funding obligations.

That would put the replacement levy on track to coincide with potential new revenues from the state.

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