School Board faces difficult choices

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MOSES LAKE — Uncertainty over the state of financing for public education has forced the Moses Lake School Board to delay any consideration of its next maintenance and operation (M & O) levy despite a tight deadline next year to enact the measure.

At a regular meeting on Thursday, board members considered the district’s options for the local levy, which will be significantly reduced in 2019 as a result of the state legislature’s recent decision to change how education in Washington is funded.

“You do, at some point, have to decide what the future holds,” Superintendent Josh Meek told school board members.

Currently, the district’s three-year M & O levy — which helps pay for enrichment, music, and athletic programs — is set to expire at the end of 2018. The levy is currently set at $4.54 per $1,000 in assessed value.

Under a new state law designed to increase state funding for public education, the state school levy will rise an average of 81 cents per $1,000 statewide at the beginning of 2018, while local levies are going to be capped at $1.50 per $1,000.

For the Moses Lake School District, that will mean a fall in local funding from around $15 million to $6.2 million. The district’s total budget for the 2017-2018 school year is around $100 million.

Moses Lake voters will see their local property taxes fall significantly, but not until the beginning of 2019, when the new local levy comes into place.

While the next local levy must go to the district’s voters in 2018, board members struggled with which election — February, April, August or November — would work best given the uncertainty.

“If we’re going to have a February levy, then we need a bond resolution at our first December meeting,” said Board President Kevin Donovan.

In order to run a levy in February, the school board would have to approve a bond resolution and get it to the county auditor by Dec. 15.

However, Meek said that if the levy were run in August, it would be too late for the district to qualify for state funds tied to the levy under the new school funding formula.

“The entire state tax package is very complicated,” Meek said. “I don’t advise to try and complicate it with one extra layer.”

Two other events are further complicating the state school funding picture, Meek said. First, the state Supreme Court heard arguments in early November about the state’s new school funding scheme for public education but isn’t expected to rule on the adequacy of the new law until after the first of the year.

The legislature enacted the new funding system earlier this year after the state Supreme Court ruled in 2011, in the McCleary Decision, that the state legislature failed to adequately fund “basic education.”

Second, the outcome of the special election for the senate seat in the 45th District has apparently given Democrats control of the state Senate, and it is widely expected they will revisit the entire school funding issue after the first of the year.

“The 2017 elections have not been certified so this is all speculation,” Meek said.

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