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Tahoma responds to school levy opposition statement
A group of three people submitted nearly identical statements in King County voters’ guides opposing 10 school district’s levies, including Tahoma’s.
Tahoma is among 16 school districts in King County that are putting levies before voters on Feb. 11.
The Enumclaw, Kent, Issaquah, Shoreline, and Snoqualmie Valley school districts are running levies, but the districts did not request a voters’ guide per the King County elections website.
Other districts in the county that are running levies and did request voters’ guides are Auburn, Bellevue, Federal Way, Fife, Lake Washington, Mercer Island, Northshore, Riverview, Skykomish, and Vashon Island. Of those 11 districts, 10 have nearly identical opposition statements that were submitted by the same three people — Skykomish being the exception with no opposition statement being submitted.
The text of the opposition statement for Tahoma reads: “Union officials in the Tahoma Schools have pressured the school board to divert levy funds from student services in order to pay teachers more. Our levy should pay for student services, not for wage increases.
“In the collective bargaining agreement sought by union officials, the average state-provided wage of $53,584 for teachers will be enhanced by 10.9 percent from levy and levy-matched funds. This costs roughly $2.06 million per year which could be better used to help at-risk students or reduce class sizes. The school district leads taxpayers to believe the levy money is being used for students, yet large amounts support union priorities instead.
“Levies are great for funding local priorities and unique services for our area students, but taxpayers should hold off giving the school district any more money until the school board is able to put student services above the demands of union officials.”
The statement was submitted by Laurie Lyford, Renay Bennett, and Tom Henningsgards. Lyford, Bennett, and Henningsgards had not responded to a request to comment prior to The Reporter’s press deadline.
No statement in favor of the Tahoma levies was submitted.
Kevin Patterson, spokesman for the Tahoma School District, wrote in an email Jan. 28 that the school district normally advertises for a committee to write a statement in opposition, but because of time constraints there wasn’t enough time to organize that committee and meet the voters’ guide deadlines. The school board approved the levies on Dec. 17. Patterson also explained the VOTE committee normally submits a pro statement.
“But because we couldn’t complete our usual notification in time, we decided not to offer either a pro or con to keep the process fair,” Patterson wrote.
The two proposed levies for Tahoma would go into effect in 2015, replacing the current maintenance and operations and technology levies that are set to expire at the end of this year.
“Well, it’s disappointing for one thing,” Patterson said in an interview on Jan. 27 concerning the opposition statement. “That they didn’t even take the time to come and do any research about our school district. They used a blanket statement that they then reproduced for con statements in most of the school districts that are running levies this year.”
Patterson also said he has received a few phone calls asking questions about the levies, but other than that hasn’t seen much reaction to the statement in the voters’ guide.
“I hope it’s because people understand that what was said was inaccurate and doesn’t really apply to our school district,” Patterson said. “Certainly if they (community members) have questions they can call us. The books are open. People can come and look at anything we do.”
The district does have some discretion and does use some levy money to supplement staff salaries, Patterson said.
“We have to supplement salaries for our staff because the state funding formula is not sufficient to pay for some staff members, and to pay enough for some staff members,” Patterson said. “We have to be competitive with Bellevue and Lake Washington and Mercer Island and Issaquah because we draw from the same candidate pool, basically. We pay an average salary.”
For teachers, Patterson explained, the standard contract is for the 180 school days. The district also pays teachers for some days prior to the start of the school year for staff development training and prep for the school year. Patterson also said that the state funding formula for administrators is insufficient and that the district has to supplement administrator salaries to be competitive and pay a market rate.
“We’ve been asking for this kind of levy since 1978, and people have understood over those years that we need those to supplement funding that falls short from the state, or doesn’t exist in some cases,” Patterson said. “And it’s to maintain our basic programs. We’re not asking for exotic things. This is for basic education.”
John Schuster, president of the Tahoma Education Association — the district’s teachers’ union — and a teacher in the district, wrote in a statement that the opposition statement was misleading in terms of the operations levy and inaccurate in terms of the technology levy. He also wrote that in Tahoma the relationship between teachers, administration and the school board is valued.
“We value collaboration and developing programs that best meet the needs of our students and families; this includes making sure we have the best teachers in the area,” Schuster wrote. “Following state law, we bargain with our employer a negotiated contract that best meets these needs.”
The proposed maintenance and operations levy would make up approximately 20 percent of the district’s general fund. The school board decided to maintain the 2014 property tax rate of $3.69 per $1,000 of assessed value. At that rate the district estimates that in 2015 it would collect $16.33 million, $16.99 million in 2016, $17.67 million in 2017, and $18.37 in 2018.
The proposed technology levy would collect $2.7 million per year through 2018, which is $50,000 less than the current levy. The estimated cost to property owners for the technology levy is 62 cents per $1,000 of assessed value in 2015.
Levies require a 50 percent yes vote to be approved and there is no minimum number of voters who need to cast their ballots for a yes vote to stand.
The two new levies would go into effect in 2015, replacing the current maintenance and operations and technology levies that are set to expire at the end of this year.