Seattle voters should approve capital levy but vote no on school-operations levy.
When it comes to the public trust and ballot measures, intention matters.
That’s why, for the first time in memory, The Seattle Times editorial board is opposing a Seattle Public Schools levy, one of two on the Feb. 12 ballot. Voters should:
— Vote YES on Proposition 2, a $1.4 billion levy to be collected over six years. The Building Excellence Capital Levy is much needed and will replace or modernize eight aging schools, enhance security at every school, and upgrade technology and heating and cooling systems.
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— Vote NO on Proposition 1, Replacement for Education Programs and Operations Levy.
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Proposition 1 is the Seattle School Board’s political ploy focused more on lobbying lawmakers in Olympia than on the needs of Seattle students. The school board should come back to the ballot in April with a more transparent request.
This editorial board did not arrive at this position easily, but voters need to know when they are being played. And, for the record, the editorial board has repeatedly expressed concerns about the school board’s intentions — as early as November, even before the school board voted to put it on the ballot. We also have criticized state Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal for his shortsighted approval of levy proposals like this one that aim to break the state’s landmark school financing reform, known as McCleary.
This proposal is disingenuous. First, it asks voters to approve a levy amount twice what the district can legally collect under the state’s sweeping reforms. The district is asking to collect about $411 million more over three years than current state law allows.
Second, that amount includes about $210 million over three years for special education. True enough, the Legislature has not fully funded special education although it has plunged billions of dollars into public education to meet the demands of the Washington Supreme Court’s 2012 McCleary ruling. Legislators, from senior leaders to the newly elected, have vowed to fix that shortfall this session, so extra special education money likely will not be needed.
The school district is asking voters to approve such an oversized levy as a political wedge.
School leaders want to take a ballot victory to the Legislature and say: “See how our voters want to provide more than a basic education to Seattle children. The Legislature should allow them to support their schools in whatever way they feel comfortable doing.”
Under the McCleary deal, the Legislature increased state property taxes to cover all basic-education costs and put new limits on local property taxes, which are to be used only for “enhancements,” from sports equipment to extra academic programs. Seattle gets an estimated $1.5 million a year more under the new system, but school officials have argued the new dollars are not enough to cover everything financed by the old levy system, especially special education.
Levies are limited, in part, because not every school district in the state has generous voters and a massive property-tax base like Seattle. The state is constitutionally required to provide ample K-12 funding so all children have equal opportunities regardless of where they live and whether their community is willing to pay more taxes.
Seattle voters must not be a party to the school district’s scheme to get the Legislature to lift the levy lid. By doing so, the Seattle district would lapse back into the legally dubious practice of local taxpayers paying for educational services that should be paid for by the state.
There is time. Seattle Public Schools should come back to voters on the April 23 special-election ballot with a more reasonable and transparent request. That’s just as the Legislature should be winding down its regular session, and the district and voters will have a better idea of what resources truly are needed.
In the meantime, Seattle voters should not agree to be used as political pawns by voting for the bloated Proposition 1 levy.