The 2019 levy rate was then capped at the much lower rate of $1.50 per $1000 of assessed property value or $1500 per student, resulting in a decrease in overall school-related taxes. While providing tax relief, this plan significantly reduced the ability of many school districts in Washington State to fully fund their obligations to students. For us at Meridian, the new, lower rate resulted in a funding level of $1,994,000 for 2019 – less than half of the $4,250,000 levy funding approved by Meridian voters in the 2015 levy proposition, where the rate was $4.23 per $1000 of assessed value.
Meridian School District has been an excellent steward of funding and operates within our revenue stream. At the heart of this puzzle is the inequitable nature of school funding by the state. We recognized the difficulty the “levy swap” was going to cause last fall. In order to ensure we were protected for the 2019 short-fall, we proactively went into survival mode and cut $800,000 from our 2018-19 budget by holding on hiring, trimming utility expenses, holding on replacing vehicles, and cutting building and department budgets, both in 2018 and 2019. We worked with our unions to ensure our agreements were both sustainable and competitive with our comparable districts so our employees were secure in their positions. We did not signal lay-offs or program cuts this spring because we stuck to our plan.
Many districts issued lay-off notices this spring as they could not balance their budgets without some other funding mechanism. Several large districts lobbied for relief from the Washington State Legislature. Rather than seek methods to address special education funding shortfalls, the new higher-cost health care plan, a delay K3 class size implementation, update the funding model and unfunded training requirements, the Legislature changed the landscape again, raising the levy cap to $2.50 per $1000 of assessed value or $2500 per student. This type of relief impacts smaller, property-poor districts differently than larger, property-rich districts – putting more of the burden on local communities.
District expenditures continue to increase. Our local levy funding today accounts for approximately 13% of our total budget. Our plan last fall helped position us to withstand the shortfall we will experience the first half of this year but was nothing we would have chosen for our students and staff to endure. Given the previously approved levy rate of $4.23 per $1000 of assessed value, the school board approved the 2019-20 budget is at the new levy rate of $2.50 per $1000 of assessed value or $2500 per student. This is lower than the levy rate in 2018 (and every year prior), and significantly lower than the $4.23 levy rate approved by voters in 2015 for 2019.
We will be able to meet the K3 class size initiative requirements and provide additional support for early childhood classrooms, add an additional counselor to Irene Reither Elementary, and an additional nurse to support the health and well-being of our students in the district – to name a few of the very important areas we have needed to address. We are committed to protecting the long term health and well-being of our students. School funding is directly related to this obligation. Thank you for your past and continued support of our students and their education.