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School districts seek additional levy funds from voters

State cuts will cost local school districts millions, and some are considering levies.

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By Eric Stevick
Herald Writer
School districts across Snohomish County will lose about $16.2 million in state budget cuts, and some could ask voters for tax increases to maintain education programs.
A state law passed by the Legislature in March allows voters in local school districts to approve supplemental operations levies beyond what they’ve previously approved. Some districts, including Edmonds and Everett, could put tax measures on the August primary ballot.
“It’s not about creating new programs,” said Everett Superintendent Gary Cohn. “It’s about not losing more and more and more.”
Lawmakers passed a bill that lifts the lid on local property tax levies by 4 percentage points for 2011 through 2017 and allows school districts to ask their voters for extra money. The levy proposals would need a simple majority to pass.
Everett faces a $2.9 million cut in state funding. It approved a reduced budget plan earlier this week that takes into consideration additional expenses, such as rising fuel, utility and labor contract costs.
Everett’s plan saves $3.79 million for next year through a mix of staff cuts through retirements, resignations and re-assignments, as well as transportation and spending reductions. It increases the likelihood of larger class sizes, longer walks to school for students and fee increases for athletics and rentals of district facilities.
“The fundamental question is: Should we give people the opportunity to stave off cuts to their kids?” Cohn said.
Everett does not know how much its request would be.
The Edmonds School Board also is considering a four-year supplemental levy proposal for the August ballot. It would raise $6.4 million the first year, costing the owner of a $350,000 home an additional $100.
“We have been pushed to the brink,” said DJ Jakala, a school district spokeswoman. “We at least need to ask the community.”
Edmonds is reducing its budget by $6.4 million for the 2010-11 school year in order to absorb the state funding reductions and a projected enrollment decline.
Most districts expect to have fewer employees next fall through attrition and not renewing non-continuing contracts. Some districts likely will have to issue layoff notices to teachers by the state-mandated May 15 deadline.
The Marysville district expects to trim $2.4 million from its basic education programs. It could reduce the 675-member teaching staff by 15 to 20 positions, but it hopes retirements and resignations will take care of it.
Arlington, which expects to slash between $1.6 million and $1.8 million, continues to study its options and is considering closing the historic Trafton Elementary School to save money.
The Sultan School District expects to cut about $500,000.
“Our focus right now is on attrition and leaves of absence,” said Dan Chaplik, the district’s superintendent. “Hopefully, we will not have to get into reducing staff, but that remains a possibility.”
One district on firmer financial footing than most is Mukilteo.
The Mukilteo School Board anticipated state lawmakers would agree to lift the levy lid and its February operations levy proposal included the request for the additional revenue.
“We knew the Legislature was thinking about it as a solution to help funding public education,” said Andy Muntz, a school district spokesman. “It will definitely help us.”

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446,

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