Seattle operating and capital levies up for renewal
INFORMATION SESSIONS START THIS WEEK
- Sept. 21, 24, 28, 29 and 30, at various school locations
By RAMONA HATTENDORF
Vice President, CPPS of Seattle
A quarter of the operating revenue needed to run Seattle Public Schools is up for vote in February 2016, and the district is hosting a series of community meetings to present information, ask for comments and answer questions. This levy renews every three years, but the amount of money raised varies.
Also up for renewal is the capital levy, officially called the Building, Technology, Academics/Athletics IV (BTA IV) levy. It renews every six years and funds both small renovations and major maintenance projects, as well as technology, academic and athletic initiatives in school buildings. Like the operations levy, the amount raised can vary from the current capital levy.
The school district decides what amounts to put before voters. Typically, administrative staff make a recommendation; the final decision about how much to seek, or even whether or not to run a levy, comes from the school board.
Click here for district levy information and meeting specifics, including where and when translators will be available.
Some budget and funding background:
Seattle Public Schools only gets about 55 percent of its operating revenue from the state. “Operating” covers the expenses of running a school − everything from staff salaries to utilities. The federal government kicks in another 8.5 percent for specific programs like Title I, Head Start, special education and free and reduced price lunches.
That leaves about 37 percent of SPS’ operating budget dependent on local levy money and “other.” The current operating levy covers more than 25 percent of total operating costs in Seattle Public Schools. “Other” revenue can include things like grants, donations, revenue from various fees, and proceeds from charges like “pay for K.” (This last one will be phased out as the state phases in funding for full-day kindergarten at all schools.)
The discrepancy between what the state covers and what Seattle Public Schools spends comes from additional costs the district chooses to take on, such as pay negotiated locally, and continued shortfall from the state. In 2009, the state broadened its definition of basic education, and starting in 2010 passed a series of bills addressing issues like learning standards, school interventions, and staff evaluations that affected school budgets.
The state legislature is phasing in the money it says is needed to cover the new definition of basic education (its self-imposed deadline is 2018; a deadline the state supreme court is enforcing as part of its McCleary school funding decision). Disputes remain around the level of funding needed to make education equitable, for instance to cover extra learning assistance or needed supports throughout K-12, and the amount needed to cover competitive salary and benefit packages for staff.
Some resources for you:
- Frequently asked questions about the levies
- District and school budgets for 2015-16
- Information from SPS’ budget office
- Schools First (The citizens group that runs the levy campaigns. The district puts levies on the ballot, but the district can’t campaign for them. SPS can only provide factual information about what they would cover, cost, etc. Schools First does community presentations, phone banks and circulates campaign signs and mailers, etc)
Good stuff to know:
- WA’s definition of “basic education”
- A Citizen’s Guide to Washington State K-12 Finance
- The bill that changed school funding in WA (remains to be fully implemented) … HB 2261 bill page … Session law.
Oh, and if you belong to a nonprofit group like a PTA, your group CAN endorse or oppose a levy, and you CAN share campaign literature. You just can’t endorse political candidates (a federal rule for 501c3 charities) and you CANNOT (don’t even think about it!) use school resources to advocate for a ballot issue (a state rule about use of public resources).
“School resources” include official school websites run by the district, school copy machines, school office supplies, school mail delivery (i e “kid mail”), etc. If you are a 501c3 nonprofit (like a PTA) you can use your independent websites, newsletters, e-mail etc, to campaign for or against a ballot issue, but you have to keep costs to a minimum (like 5-10 percent of your overall budget, max, for all issue campaigning). You can at any time, and without restriction, share factual information, such as when the election is, what the money is for, etc. Just don’t urge a “yes” or “no” unless it is completely school-free communication. The district could face fines.