UPDATE: March 16, 2017:
Governor signs bill to keep deep cuts from school budgets
State lawmakers recently came to an agreement on a plan to extend school districts' current taxing authority for another year, eliminating a "levy cliff" and allowing school districts continue collecting property taxes at current levels through January 2019. The "levy cliff" was a move by state lawmakers to reduce the amount of funding that is provided by local citizens to their schools from 28% down to 24%. Senate Bill 5023 was signed this week by Governor Jay Inslee.
The move allows Renton School District, like districts across the state, to plan the 2017-2018 school year budget without deep cuts. Without the extension, Renton School District would have lost $11 million in the next two-year budget cycle. The state's 295 school districts would have lost between $350 million and $500 million in 2018.
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.