Evergreen schools levy passes

Apparent voter approval of $180M tax measure will help school district avoid more budget cuts

By Dave Kern, Columbian assistant metro editor

Published:

Updated: February 14, 2012, 10:42 PM

 
photoLevy campaign Co-chair Lora Taylor, center, celebrates the result of the levy election with Barbara Pieske, left, and Regina White. The school district would have lost one-fifth of its operating money if the levy had not passed.

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The women surrounding the Evergreen school board president wiped away tears of joy.

“Thank you all so much for your hard work,” Joan Skelton, the board president, told the women, who had led the campaign for the district’s levy measure.

Their work on Tuesday appeared to pay off — Evergreen’s levy proposal was six percentage points above the minimum needed for passage. The school district stood to lose one-fifth of its operating money if the levy had not passed.

Tuesday’s preliminary results showed that voters approved Evergreen’s $180 million property tax levy by a comfortable margin. The measure appeared headed for passage, with 56.2 percent — or 12,521 votes — in favor. About 9,700 voted against the measure.

The goodwill of voters spread across the area on Tuesday, as the preliminary results had every local school measure passing.

Levy boosters and school officials had gathered at the home of Lora Taylor, co-chair of the levy campaign, to hear the election results. The gathering turned into a celebration shortly after 8 p.m., when Superintendent John Deeder got the call from the county auditor’s office.

“It sounds like we’re in pretty good shape,” Deeder announced to the small crowd.

County Auditor Greg Kimsey had just told Deeder that every outstanding ballot would have to be a vote against the measure to even make it close, Deeder said. Historically, ballots received on Election Day come in at roughly the same percentages as do those received in the days before.

This means that the Evergreen district is now almost certain to get about $180 million from local property taxes over four years starting in 2013. The levy replaces a previous two-year property tax measure that expires at the end of 2012.

For a median-priced home in the school district — currently that’s one worth $171,000 — the new rates are expected to create tax bills ranging from $685 in 2013 to $738 in 2016. The district will take in a total of about $8 million more than it would have if it had left the tax rate at the 2012 level for the next four years.

The increase in the tax rate compensates for inflation, especially in fuel, electricity and insurance rates, Deeder has said previously.

“People in this community support schools,” Deeder said. “They continue to show us that they value our kids.”

Passing the levy means the district may receive up to $13.6 million in levy equalization — state money intended to level the playing field between property-rich and property-poor districts statewide. The equalization money is on the chopping block in Olympia to cut state deficits, but a big portion of it is expected to survive this legislative session.

The state revenue forecast is scheduled to be released Thursday, said Mike Merlino, the district’s chief financial officer. By next week, the district might have some idea whether levy equalization will survive the looming cuts. Even with the levy passed, any cuts to the equalization will be felt in district classrooms, because all other areas have already been trimmed so much in recent years, Merlino said.

The local tax helps pay for classroom expenses such as teachers’ salaries, textbooks and highly capable programs. It supports transportation of kids who live closer than one mile from a school but would have to cross dangerous highways to get to school. It also helps pay for athletics.

“I’m proud of our community,” said Taylor, the campaign co-chair. “They did the right thing for our schools and our kids.”

Jacques Von Lunen: 360-735-4515; jacques.vonlunen@columbian.com; http://www.twitter.com/col_schools