Chimacum seeks to improve academics; school levy ballots due Feb. 14

Patrick J. Sullivan psullivan@ptleader.com
Posted 2/7/17

Student academic performance is a measuring stick that Chimacum School District 49 board members, administrators and staff are working to improve.

Voters are being asked to approve a four-year …

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Chimacum seeks to improve academics; school levy ballots due Feb. 14

Posted

Student academic performance is a measuring stick that Chimacum School District 49 board members, administrators and staff are working to improve.

Voters are being asked to approve a four-year maintenance and operations (M&O) replacement levy, with ballots due Tuesday, Feb. 14.

The district has had steady success with voter-approved levy requests, unlike recent construction bond requests. School levies require a 50 percent plus one voter approval; bond issues require 60 percent.

The Chimacum M&O levy represents 22 percent of the district’s overall funding, according to Superintendent Rick Thompson, and touches everything from staffing to textbooks, food service to transportation, and educational programs to grounds and facility maintenance.

There have been a few anti-levy comments made in the past two months on social media, with one stated area of concern being the academic performance of Chimacum students, as recorded by the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). (View a LINK.) Similar concerns were raised last year by people opposed to Chimacum’s construction bonds, which failed twice at the polls.

“Student achievement here is not what we want it to be,” Thompson said. “We saw some gains in reading. We see some nice numbers in science. We believe in order to get us where we need to go as a district that levy investment is critical to help us succeed.”

Thompson said the school board has been focused on ways to improve academic performance, which include a reading curriculum adoption, new secondary math curriculum this year, a new Microsoft lab at Chimacum High School (see story on page A5 of this Leader edition), curriculum adoption for grades K-5 math planned for next school year, an ongoing investment in science programs, a new assessment system with measures of academic progress and Title I reading specialists in each elementary school.

“The school board is demonstrating we are making investments in the kids’ future,” Thompson said. “I don’t believe cutting off levy funds, which represents a fifth of our budget, is the solution.”

Chimacum is requesting a four-year replacement M&O levy estimated to collect $3,420,000 in 2016, $3,595,000 in 2019, $3,775,000 in 2020 and $3,965,000 in 2021. The Chimacum School Board has estimated the levy to cost $1.82 per $1,000 of assessed property value in 2018, rising by the fourth year to $2.08. The exact per $1,000 amount could vary as the total assessed property value within the district boundary grows.

BALLOT RETURN

Ballot return by Jefferson County voters for the three school district levies on the Feb. 14 ballot hit 28 percent as of Feb. 6, according to the Jefferson County Auditor’s Office.

As of Feb. 6, of the 9,292 ballots mailed to Chimacum School District voters, 2,657 (29 percent) had been returned.

For the Quillayute Valley School District’s four-year M&O levy, of the 152 ballots mailed, 16 had been returned (11 percent).

The Sequim School District includes 313 registered voters in the Gardiner area of Jefferson County; 81 ballots (26 percent) had been returned by Feb. 6. Sequim is requesting a four-year replacement M&O levy and a new, three-year capital levy to renovate and expand the district’s central kitchen.

All ballots must be physically returned by 8 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 14 or be postmarked on Feb. 14. Drop boxes are located outside the Jefferson County Library in Port Hadlock, behind the courthouse in Port Townsend, and at the Auditor’s Office inside the courthouse.

“If you are going to wait until Feb. 13 or Feb. 14 to vote, you should drop the ballot off at one of our drop sites or bring it in to the office to make sure it gets validated in time,” said Betty Johnson, elections supervisor. If a person intends to mail his or her ballot on those days, Johnson advises taking it to the post office counter to be hand-stamped to ensure it meets the Feb. 14 requirement.

Any ballots hand-delivered after about 8:30 a.m. to a drop box or the Auditor’s Office itself on election day are typically not included in the election night count, depending on overall ballot volume.

STATE FUNDING

Chimacum School District’s funding starts with 51.8 percent from the state general fund, 21.9 percent from local taxpayer-approved levies, 15.3 percent from state special fund, 5.3 percent from federal (special education, Title I, for example), 1.7 percent for other school and 1.5 percent from federal forest funds, Thompson noted.

In Olympia, state legislators are debating several public education funding measures.

Per the Supreme Court’s 2012 McCleary decision, the state must come up with a budget this session to fully fund basic education by 2018. It’s expected that legislators would extend the budget talks into June; school districts generally make staffing decisions in May.

“We don’t know exactly how [the legislative session] is going to play out, and I want our voters to know while we are trying to collect the maximum [levy] allowed from our local community, if in fact the state comes up with more funding, we would roll back our taxes based on whatever formula we’re given,” Thompson said.

Through past decades, school districts have made up the difference between what the state has funded for education and the revenue necessary to meet the “basic education” standard. Districts have done this by asking their voters to approve special property tax levies.

Maximum school levy percentages are scheduled to drop from 28 percent to 24 percent for the 2017-18 school year unless the Legislature extends the limit or approves a state budget with supportive funding. Known as “levy lid” legislation, Republicans and Democrats generally have their own idea of what should be approved.

Senate Republicans approved an education budget, Senate Bill 5607, following floor debate Feb. 1 that would defer lowering the levy lid to 24 percent until the 2018 school year and would eliminate voter-approved special levies in 2019. The lid would drop to 10 percent by 2020. The education budget proposal passed 25-24. The bill faces House consideration starting this week.

Minority Senate Democrats tried and failed to bring Senate Bill 5023 to the floor without a committee hearing. The bill would freeze the current levy lid at 28 percent until 2019 and thus ensure school districts of necessary funding resources until a new funding plan is adopted within the state budget.

So-called “levy cliffs” occur when local levy rates are lowered by the state without providing new revenue resources and school districts are unable to raise the funds to meet basic education levels.

House Bill 1059, which passed 62-35, would delay the “levy cliff” by one year – through 2018. If the bill does not pass the Republican-controlled Senate soon, schools would have to plan for nearly $400 million in cuts next year, noted 24th District Rep. Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles.

Examples of possible cuts to local districts include $530,000 for Chimacum, $487,848 for Port Townsend and $32,571 for Quilcene.

On Feb. 12, Thompson, several school board members and two student representatives are going to Olympia to talk with legislators about school funding.

“If the Legislature does not suspend the levy cliff, there are going to be real impacts to our budget,” Thompson said of Chimacum. “Meanwhile, your local districts have timelines dealing with staff and budgets,” and those decisions won’t wait for legislative decisions not expected until June.

(Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation’s Olympia News Bureau contributed to this story.)

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