Lakewood School District voters will decide in April on a $19 million three-year levy meant to provide staff and, safety and educational programs to the district.
An "educational programs and operations levy" provides for a wide range of things in a school district and Lakewood officials want to use the levy money on nurses, teachers, support staff, athletic programs, safety and security, and other programs.
Most school districts in the state have an educational program and operations levy which helps districts pay for support staff beyond the funding they are given from the state.
“Lakewood has been approving these levies since at least the early ‘90s,” said Scott Peacock, Lakewood School District Superintendent.
However, in 2020 the school district had trouble passing their levy.
That year they had proposed a $27 million four-year levy and it was rejected in February 2020 with 44.99 percent approval and voted down again in August 2020 with 46.14 percent approval.
District officials have come forward with a new levy proposal that is shorter and less costly.
“The total proposition is over $8 million less than what was previously proposed,” said Peacock.
Part of the cost reduction is because the length is reduced by a year, but the total amount asked per year is also reduced.
“We’ve made reductions this past year so we’re functioning more efficiently,” said Peacock.
In 2020, the last year the previous levy was paid, property owners paid $2.18 per $1,000 of assessed property value.
Under the new levy they would pay an estimated $1.80 per $1,000 of assessed property value in 2022 and the two years after.
Peacock said the reduced levy amount was also in consideration of the current economic climate due to the pandemic.
“The school board worked really hard to craft this with the knowledge of the hardships of the community right now,” he said.
District officials hope the levy passes in April so they can plan their budget with the funds this summer.
“Parents want a sense of certainly come this fall, especially after this year,” said Peacock.
Because of the levy rejections in 2020 the school district faced a budget shortfall for this year.
Rather than cut programs they opted to use their reserve funds, a pool of savings that school districts typically keep in case of emergencies.
This year $3.3 million of the district’s reserve funds were used, but the district cannot afford to do that next year.
“We still have to look ahead to the 2021-22 school year should the levy not pass,” said Peacock. They are looking at budget reductions in the range of $2.5 million next school year and $3.4 million the year after that without the funds from the levy, he said.
If the new levy proposal passes in April, Peacock said there is still time to adjust the budget so that reductions will not have to be made.
“One of the biggest things this will fund is the 23 teachers to help keep our class sizes small,” said Peacock.
About 31 percent of the levy’s funds are meant to fund teachers.
“Another big item is certainly the vocational programs,” said Peacock. Although the amount the levy funds is only about $140,000 per year, those funds allow the district to access further state funding for engineering and manufacturing programs.
Staff positions such as special education support are also paid for by the levy.
Washington state funds less than one nurse per 2,500 students and district officials currently keep one nurse per school.
“That has been critical during the pandemic and will continue to be afterward,” said Peacock.
Safety and security staff, such as School Resource Officers and other positions, are typically paid through the local levy.
“We’ve had to reduce those measures because they are paid almost entirely by the levy,” said Peacock.
Sports activities and clubs are also a large percentage of the levy spending, accounting for 15 percent of the planned levy dollars.
Over the next couple of months the district is planning to give information out through various sources, including flyers being sent out in March, social media outreach and presentations made to community groups and staff.
“We’ve completely revamped our info page,” said Peacock. The levy page at lwsd.wednet.edu/Page/1473 provides full dollar amounts for each program and other information about the levy.
“This is probably the most outreach we’ve ever planned,” said Peacock.
Ballots will be due for the levy on April 27. Snohomish County typically mails out ballots three weeks ahead of the election date.
Residents can register to vote or update their information at voter.votewa.gov/WhereToVote.aspx.