Q: My local school tax rate for schools seems to fluctuate year-to-year over the past several years. In 2018 it was $2.55, In 2019 it was $1.50, in 2020 it is $2.37. Why is this?
In 2017, voters approved a three-year levy for the tax years 2018-2020. The district conservatively estimated that the tax rates would be $2.70 in 2018 and 2019 followed by $2.69 in 2020.
Following voter approval of the three-year levy, the State of Washington did a “Levy Swap.” The legislature increased the property taxes going into the state’s general fund while decreasing the levy capacity of the local school district to $1.50 per $1000 of property value.
At the same time, the state set requirements for what we must pay employees and continued to underfund school programs like technology, facilities maintenance, curriculum materials, special education, and staff. As a result, 253 out of the 295 school districts in the state could not balance their budgets without significant program and staffing cuts.
In 2019, the state legislature, realizing that the $1.50 limit would lead to deep cuts in program and staffing across the state, allowed school districts in the state to collect up to $2.50 per $1000 in assessed value. Thus, the school district was able to collect the voter authorized amount of the levy, which resulted in a tax rate of $2.37 in 2020, below the $2.50 cap.
In order to continue to operate a quality education program the board is asking voters to renew the levy at the current (2020) tax rate of $2.37. The county actually projects that the actual 2021 tax rate will be $2.33 per $1000 of assessed value.