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Kalama School Board approves $1.50 levy rate for April ballot

Kalama School Board approves $1.50 levy rate for April ballot

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The Kalama School District will ask voters to approve a replacement levy that wouldn’t raise tax rates if voters approve it in April.

The school board Monday voted to seek approval of a levy of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value, which would collect between $2.33 million to $2.66 million over three years. The levy rate is identical to the one in effect but is significantly less than the one voters decisively rejected earlier this month.

“We can’t afford a double levy failure, so we wanted to maximize chances of it passing because we need a levy,” Ryan Cruser, school board president, said in a phone interview Tuesday “We listened to the voters who gave feedback. They just don’t want taxes raised.”

If the levy fails a second time, all athletics and activities would be eliminated; 19 staff positions would be cut, including eight teachers; and professional learning days would be reduced, according to school documents.

Kalama’s levy failed on Feb. 11 for the first time in decades, with nearly a 54% “no” vote. It needed a simple majority to pass.

The rejected levy have raised $3.25 million to $3.4 million annually for three years at a rate ranging from $2.23 to $2.15 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

School levies pay for programs, staff and activities that the state only partially funds. The current levy, which expires at the end of this year, represents 24% of the district’s overall operating budget.

Cruser said at the $1.50 rate there will be some cuts, but it’s unclear how severe they may be depending on enrollment levels.

The expiring levy was affected by the Legislature’s cap on levy rates at $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value as part of its “fix” to the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision on basic education funding. Early last year, however, the Legislature raised the cap to $2.50 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Prior to the “McCleary fix,” the Kalama 2018 levy rate was $2.40 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Cruser said the idea that the state fully funds education now is a “false message” that hurt the district’s chances at passing the February levy.

Although the school board and district can’t advocate for the levy, Cruser said they will provide information and answer voters’ questions.

The levy measure will be on the April 28 special election ballot.

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