Evergreen to put replacement levy on ballot

Measure would be in effect for four years; officials seek longer-term funding stability

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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Evergreen’s school board voted Tuesday night to put a four-year replacement levy on the Feb. 14 ballot, while district officials braced for the probability of state funding cuts.

The four-year levy request would replace the two-year levy approved by district voters in 2010. Districts can go to the voters with two-, three- or four-year levy requests.

With the change to a four-year levy, the district is looking for longer-term funding stability, said Mike Merlino, Evergreen’s chief financial officer. The district has about 26,000 students.

In 2013 — the first year of the new replacement levy — the owner of a median-priced home (assessed at $171,000, according to the county assessor) would pay about $685.

Under the current levy, the owner of that home will pay about $660 in 2012.

Levies help fill the gap between what the state pays for and what it actually costs to maintain the educational programs in Evergreen Public Schools. Educators expect that gap to widen.

“It’s unrealistic to think there won’t be some reductions in state funding,” Merlino said at Tuesday’s board meeting.

In the past four years, reductions in state funding have caused Evergreen Public Schools to cut the budget by more than $26 million.

State funding reductions aren’t the only budget pressure. The district can plan on inflationary costs of $2 million to $3 million a year, so, “We tried to build in for inflation,” Superintendent John Deeder said.

Replacement levy funds make up 17 percent of Evergreen’s $239.3 million operating budget this year.

Money from the current levy pays for all or part of a variety of staff members, including more than 200 instructional staff such as teachers, librarians and counselors; and more than 140 non-instructional staff such as building clerical support personnel and security staff.

Programs supported by levy dollars include: textbooks and supplies; some English Language Learner programs; some special education programs; EXCEL classes for highly capable students; bus transportation for elementary students who live more than a half-mile from school; classroom technology; library materials and equipment; building and grounds maintenance; and extracurricular activities, music, athletics and clubs.

Evergreen’s levy for 2011 is $3.69 per $1,000 of value and is scheduled to increase to $3.83 in 2012.

If the new levy is approved, the owner of a median-priced home will pay $4.19 per $1,000 of assessed valuation (about $685 total) in 2013; $4.42 per $1,000 (about $698) in 2014; $4.54 per $1,000 (about $718) in 2015; and $4.51 per $1,000 (about $738) in 2016.

The annual increase is about 2.8 percent, Merlino said.

Districtwide, the four-year levy would raise $43,331,000 in 2013; $44,150,000 in 2014; $45,400,000 in 2015; and $46,700,000 in 2016.

The district still doesn’t know if the state Legislature will preserve levy equalization, which compensates some school districts for low property values.

The state currently provides Evergreen with about $6.8 million a year in levy equalization funding.

If that funding is trimmed, Merlino said, “We will have to make reductions.”