Opinion

South Kitsap School District reports, voters decide

Now that the South Kitsap School District board of directors has adopted a resolution to put an excess levy measure on the ballot for next February’s election, it’s time for the voters to consider whether to approve or reject the ballot proposition.

Over the past several months, beginning no later than May when the board began to consider the upcoming levy measure at its regular public meetings, taxpayers have had a chance to provide their comments and ask their questions about the amounts being considered by the school district.

The decision to be made now is whether to approve or reject the annual levy amounts, not whether to change them.

The ballot only has places for a “yes” or “no” vote.

Between now and February, voters who paid little attention or said nothing prior to the board’s decision will, of course, be able to ask questions and make comments for the information of themselves and others.

As this public discussion proceeds, it would be good if voters would consider the issue in two steps. First, are the levy dollar amounts justified? Second, can they afford to pay their share?

If the answer to both questions is “yes,” then your vote ought to be “yes.”

But, if you answer either question “no,” then that should probably be the way you mark your ballot.

We hold these elections to give you a chance to say “no” just as much as to say “yes.”

Many people take the affordability question first. Knowing how their own taxes would change gives them an idea of how much effort to put into figuring out whether the board has justified its proposal.

Estimating the effect on one’s own bill can be done by looking at the annual increase being proposed. Assume the worst — that is, new construction will pay no part of the increase.

Then your increase would probably be the same as the increase in the amount collected from us all.

This year, the median value of homes in South Kitsap’s unincorporated area is almost $290,000; so the local levy for the typical homeowner is roughly $550.

Next year, the levy amount increases by 4.46 percent, so the typical homeowner will see an increase to about $572.

In the first year of the proposed levy, the total levy amount would increase by 14.6 percent, so the typical homeowner would see an increase to about $656.

That’s about a $7 per month increase in 2010, so you can probably see why many people look at this part first.

For levy supporters, the increase looks very small, and for others it may not seem worthwhile to make a great effort to examine the justification.

Looking at the justification is still important, since this is one time when most of us recognize a personal interest in knowing whether our district’s administration is apparently using our money effectively.

The plan that shows how the public’s money would be used is available on the district’s Web site (www.skitsap.wednet.edu).

Follow the link for “2009 Replacement School Support Levy,” and you can examine the PowerPoint presentation and the three-page outline of each budget item and the dollar amounts for them.

With that preliminary information, you can readily decide what you may want to ask the district about.

As the public discussion goes along, some topics will be raised which, frankly, have little or nothing to do with deciding whether to approve the proposed levy.

For example, the district’s decision to hold the election in February rather than during the primary or general election is sometimes suggested as a reason to reject the measure or to believe that the district is wasting our money on special election costs.

The district must make decisions before the middle of May about recruiting new teachers or giving layoff notices to current employees.

The district’s budget must be adopted by August, since the beginning of the school year in September is also the start of the district’s fiscal year.

Delaying the election until August or November 2009 would make it impossible to know in time whether the district could afford to pay all its employees during the 2009-2010 school year.

And you can’t go the other way and hold the election earlier during this year’s primary or general election for a school levy that starts in 2010.

Under our state constitution, the levy amount for 2010 must be certified to the county commissioners in the same year the election is held.

This means the amount to be collected in 2010 must be certified in November 2009, not at some earlier time in 2008.

We are one of the few states, if not the only one, that puts the question of local school taxes up for a vote.

To avoid the election costs, should we amend the constitution and authorize our school board to impose this local property tax without our approval?

I think not.

Robert Meadows is a

Port Orchard resident.

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