Puyallup schools places two levies on Feb. 11 ballot

Academics: Revenue would support instruction, technology, capital improvements

of the HeraldJanuary 15, 2014 

Voters who live in the Puyallup School District will be asked to approve two levies on Feb. 11.

Proposition 1 is a $49.5 million renewal of the education programs, maintenance and operations levy that is set to expire Dec. 31. A second proposition is a $46 million capital improvements and technology upgrades levy that also would provide modifications to provide for all-day kindergarten.

Kathy Horton, a lead member on the Citizens Committee for Education Puyallup, said both levies ask for a minimal cost to homeowners.

“The bottom line is, there is growth,” Horton said. “That’s part of being in the community. There is more we need to do. It is a very small cost to support our kids.”

School district personnel said the renewal of the maintenance and operations levy is essential because it provides for 24 percent of the district’s day-to-day expenses. Part of the levy dollars would go to support teacher funding and instructional aides. It would fill the gap state dollars leave.

“If teachers’ hours are cut, then they aren’t able to invest that time to help kids,” Horton said.

Bob Brown, who represents the against committee on Proposition 1, believes the maintenance and operations levy is being used to appease the teachers’ union to pay teachers more.

“Our levy should pay for student services, not for teachers’ wage increases,” Brown said.

Puyallup School District Finance Director Corine Pennington contends the state has a salary schedule, and it has set no pay increases for teachers and has not done so in five years.

“The state isn’t funding any more, but we have provided additional pay for professional development,” Pennington said.

The maintenance and operations levy would cost about $4.28 per $1,000 of assessed property value for the next four years. Collection amounts would be $49.5 million in 2015, $51 million in 2016, $52.5 million in 2017 and $54.1 million in 2018.

Pennington said the operations levy tax rate of $4.18 per $1,000 this year would increase by 10 cents next year.

“It’s a replacement levy,” Pennington said. “The authority to assess is granted by the voters every four years. The dollar amount they pay is going to vary based on the assessed valuation. What they’re approving is the actual assessment of dollars.”

Pennington said it’s not a new tax. And, historically, Pennington said the district has rolled back every year on the full amount assessed and collected.

“This is because our assessed valuations are going down,” Pennington said.

For example, the assessed levy amount this year was rolled back from $49.5 million to $44.6 million, a savings of $4.8 million.

“State law sets forth the maximum amount that a school can levy and collect, but we don’t know how much we can collect until October before the new levy year,” Pennington said.

For the average $207,000 property, a homeowner would pay, on average, $21 more per year under the $4.28 levy rate in 2015.

Meanwhile, Proposition 2 is a levy in response to the $279.6 million bond that failed last February. The short-term, six-year levy would assess 60 to 71 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.

Levy amounts range from $7 million to $9 million through 2020. Those who own an average $207,000 home would pay between $124 and $147 annually.

District staff members said $40 million would be dedicated to capital projects, and $6 million for technology upgrades.

Horton said she’s excited about the levy, especially for what it would do for all-day kindergarten. Horton’s daughter, now an eighth-grader at Edgemont Junior High, attended all-day kindergarten at Northwood Elementary School in Edgewood. Her daughter was in the all-day kindergarten class before it was cut.

Now, it’s only in a few select schools in the district.

“Tests show that students in all-day kindergarten are better equipped,” Horton said. “It sets students up for the next 12 years of their life.”

Andy Asmussen, who represents the against statement on Proposition 2, said the levy is excessive and unnecessary.

“Since it’s lumped in with maintenance and operations, why not put it under Proposition 1?” Asmussen asked.

He also wondered why the district decided to run a levy when bonds allow for a cheaper way of funding.

“(The district) is charging residents more over the short term for a levy,” Asmussen said.

Pennington said the district chose to spread the levy rate for Proposition 2 over six years to keep the rate low and to spread out costs.

Ballots will be mailed to voters on Jan. 24.

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