January 10, 2017—Renton School District, along with districts across the state, are approaching what is called a “levy cliff” which is an upcoming legislative reduction in the amount of money school districts can collect through local maintenance and operations tax levies. The “cliff” would mean deep cuts by significant amounts to school and district budgets.
Because of that, districts are in urgent need for the state Legislature to act quickly to delay the planned reduction in local levy authority which threatens to cut hundreds of millions of dollars from school district budgets—including an estimated $11 million from Renton School’s budget—in the coming school year.
PRESS CONFERENCE TO ASK FOR LEGISLATIVE SUPPORT
Renton School District is joining others across the region at a press conference on Jan. 12 at Renton High to implore state legislators to extend school districts’ current levy authority, keeping it at 28 percent, early in their state budget process. Voters in most districts, including Renton, have already approved the funding through M&O levies; the cuts would come if legislators fail to act now to continue the current tax rate percentage.
A state law from the 1970s allows school district’s to ask local taxpayers to provide a percentage of the local school district’s annual operating budget. State lawmakers have periodically raised the levy lid over the years. In 2011, lawmakers increased school districts’ local levy capacity to 28 percent to help schools during the economic recession (previously, most districts’ levy authority was capped at 24 percent).
For decades, local voters have overwhelmingly supported local schools through this levy system, approving school levies every four years to provide funding for:
Now, the temporary increase in the levy lid is set to expire, dropping district levy capacity by 4 percent, back down to 24 percent, creating the levy cliff starting in 2018.
THE EFFECTS, A PLEA FOR A FIX
Unless the Legislature delays the 2018 levy cliff, school districts statewide will have to cut budgets by more than $400 million from 2017-18 budgets: In Renton, that’s as much as $11 million. Districts would need to start planning for those cuts soon, which is why they want the Legislature to act now, before the rate drops to 24 percent.
If lawmakers wait until the end of the current session (currently slated to end April 23) school districts will likely have to start issuing layoff notices while the Legislature still is in session. Each year, school districts face a May deadline for issuing layoff notices to teachers. Last year, the Legislature took until July to finalize the state’s two-year budget.