District planning for Replacement Educational Enrichment Levy in 2020
Legislators relax cap and increase accountability
Alarms of financial insolvency have been sounding off from school districts large and small across the state following the approval of the 2017 “McCleary” levy swap and tighter limits placed on local educational enrichment levies.
Based on statewide outcry, legislators realized the arbitrary caps they placed on locally approved levies were too aggressive, and relaxed the cap on how much school districts can collect from local property-tax levies beginning in 2020. However, with the relief, comes increased accountability and scrutiny to ensure levy resources are applied only to enrichment activities, reported Superintendent Wade Smith.
In 2017, state legislators voted as part of the McCleary Decision to cap local levy collections for most districts at $1.50 per thousand dollars of assessed value. That has been increased to $2.50 per thousand for most districts in 2020, still far under the $3.81 per thousand approved by Walla Walla voters in 2016.
The levy-lid impact in Walla Walla resulted in a reduction of over $2 per thousand from what voters overwhelmingly approved in 2016, resulting in approximately $6.5 million less in annual operating funds to support student enrichment activities such as fine arts, Highly Capable, AP classes, extra-curricular programs, school safety, and additional staffing to support students. Smith reviewed the new legislation with school board members last night to explain the steps needed in place to meet the new auditing requirements.
“For decades our Walla Walla voters have overwhelmingly supported these enrichment activities through our local levy," said Smith. "Although the state doesn’t seem to feel the need to fund Advanced Placement classes, fine arts, and student safety, our voters have spoken loud and clear that is what they expect from their local school system."
The biggest change with the new law is a far more cumbersome accounting requirement and penalties that can be assigned if districts misappropriate local enrichment levy dollars. The district is set to reauthorize their replacement Enrichment Levy to voters in February 2020.