Frequently Asked Questions
What is an Educational Program (Maintenance & Operations) Levy?
The Replacement Educational Program Levy is a local property tax authorized by voters to be used for educational and operational costs of the school district.
Washington State funds less than 60% of the general operating budget for Spokane Public Schools. The Educational Program Levy provides 23.4 percent of funding when combined with state Levy Equalization Assistance (LEA) funding. The remaining funding for school district programs comes from the federal government and other private sources.
Why is this called a “Replacement Educational Program Levy”?
The ballot measure is titled a “replacement” levy because this is not a new tax request. Instead, this measure is asking voters to continue the three-year educational program levy they approved in 2009.
What is State Levy Equalization Assistance (LEA)?
The total value of all taxable property within the school district is called its “assessed value.” The lower the overall assessed property in a school district, the higher the property tax rate. Levy equalization is an adjustment made by the state to level the playing field across the state and reduce the greater tax burden on property owners within school districts that have a lower average assessed valuation than the statewide average – the situation here in Spokane.
Does Spokane Public Schools benefit from Levy Equalization Assistance funding?
Yes. The school district receives this state funding because it is considered a “property poor” district – a district with a high tax rate due to low assessed property values. In other words, the tax rate required in Spokane to generate local levy dollars per student is higher than the statewide average tax rate needed to generate the same revenue.
How much LEA funding does Spokane Public Schools receive from the state?
Currently, $13.2 million per year. The funding is critical to Spokane Public Schools, because when combined with the expiring $60.2 million levy, total Levy/LEA funding is $73.4 million or 23.4% of the school district’s budget.
The School Board increased the replacement levy amount assuming a reduction in state LEA funding. LEA has been a form of local property tax relief provided by the State Legislature since 1989; however, in the absence of this state funding, local patrons are asked to contribute more to support their local schools. The 2012 ballot measure reflects this possibility – a loss of state funding and consideration by local patrons to make up a portion of this funding locally.
Is LEA funding also dependent on passage of the ballot measure?
Yes. LEA is sometimes described as a matching process because it depends upon passage of the local levy and continued funding by the state legislature.
When will we know if LEA will continue?
The Legislature is scheduled to meet through early March. However, faced with the significant budget gap of $2 billion, the Legislature may not agree on final budget decisions for several months. That’s why the SPS board of directors felt they had no choice but to assume a reduction in LEA and thus put higher levy amounts on the ballot to account for the potential loss of this critical funding source. However, if the state Legislature continues LEA, the taxes collected for the levy amount in 2013, 2014, and 2015 will be about the same or lower than the taxes the school district will collect from local citizens in 2012 ($64 million). If the Legislature discontinues some or all of LEA, between $7.5 and $9.5 million more will be collected each of the three years.
Is the 2012 ballot request the same dollar amount as the measure approved in 2009?
No. The ballot measure asks voters to approve tax collections in 2013, 2014, and 2015 of $71.5 million, $72.5 million, and $73.5 million, respectively.
If this is a replacement levy, why is the levy request more than the 2009 ballot measure?
The increase in the levy amounts represents the potential loss of state Levy Equalization Assistance (LEA) funding that the school district currently receives. If the state continues to fund LEA at the current level, the school district will not collect the full $71.5 million levy amount authorized by the voters. In fact, if the state continues full funding of LEA, property taxes collected for the school district in 2013 will be about the same as the amount collected in 2012.
Is the ballot proposition asking me to consider the “estimated” tax rate or the stated dollar amount of $71.5 million, $72.5 million and $73.5 million per year?
Maximum dollar amounts for collection in calendar years 2013, 2014, and 2015. The “estimated” tax rate is provided for voter information only and is based on an assumption of assessed property values within the school district. Tax rates fluctuate as assessed property values (determined by the Spokane County Assessor) change.
Will the Replacement Levy increase my taxes?
It depends. The Replacement Levy represents an increase in total levy authority and thus an estimated increase in the tax rate of 60 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. This means $60.00 per year for a $100,000 home. However, if the state maintains current LEA funding, taxes should be comparable to 2012, assuming stable assessed property values.
Will passage of a higher levy amount bring additional funding to Spokane Public Schools?
No. Passage of the 2012 levy protects existing resources. However, if the State Legislature reduces or eliminates LEA funding, state funding for education programs will decrease and local funding will increase.
What is a tax rollback?
The levy request is a maximum and not necessarily what property owners will actually pay. A levy rollback occurs when the school district collects less than what voters have approved. For example, the existing voter approved levy is $64 million for collection in 2012. However, based on the state levy lid law and state LEA funding, the actual amount local property owners will pay is $61.3 million or $2.7 million less than the approved amount. This difference is called a tax rollback and represents taxes that the school district will NOT collect.
How is the school district doing its part to cut expenses?
Expenditures have been reduced through elimination of central administrative and instructional support positions and administrative salary reductions; travel has been restricted to only the most necessary meetings such as those required for grants; and we’ve reduced allocations for materials, supplies, etc. In order to reduce utility expenses, the central administration building will be closed and staff will be required to take vacation the last week of winter break and the week of July 4th.
Are administrators paid out of the levy?
Yes – as are teachers and other support staff, since the state does not fully fund teacher, administrative or support staff positions and salaries. Nearly 50 percent of the levy pays for teacher salaries and positions to keep class sizes reasonable and to provide well-rounded program offerings; nearly 30 percent pays for coaches, secretaries and other “classified” staff such as instructional assistants; and less than 10 percent pays for administrative salaries and positions, from principals at all schools to assistant principals at secondary schools and central office administrators who serve all schools.
If the Replacement Levy passes, will all education programs remain intact?
There is no guarantee. As the cost of education rises, more resources are needed to do the same thing. Thus, if resources remain flat or if state and federal funding is further reduced, the school district will need to tighten its belt again and adjust programs based on available resources.
What will happen if the Replacement Levy does not pass?
The operating budget for Spokane Public Schools would need to be reduced by $74 million or 23.4% of the budget. The full impact would take place over two years because tax collection (January through December) does not coincide with the school budget year (September through August).