Educational Programs and Operations Renewal Levy
Special Election  ||  February 9th, 2021

On February 9, 2021 voters in the Deer Park School District will be asked to renew the Educational Programs and Operations levy, which expires in 2021. Presently, approximately $4.5 million of Deer Park School District’s annual revenue is funded through taxpayer support of the local levy (total revenues for the 2020-21 school year are estimated at over $41 million) – the amount approved by local taxpayers is matched by the state in the form of “local effort assistance” (LEA) dollars.

There’s no doubt that 2020 has been a difficult year for many families and it’s also clear that the pandemic has created a great deal of economic instability. While we’re hopeful for a swift rebound, the Board’s goal in the upcoming EP&O levy is to keep tax rates flat – squeezing every bit of value from local your tax dollars to provide the greatest impact for kids. Renewal of the Educational Programs & Operations levy on February 9th will raise a maximum of $2.55 million per year for the next three years (2022-2024), with a target of $1.50 per thousand dollars of assessed value.

Many of the most frequently asked questions are answered below; thanks for taking a moment to learn more about how the Educational Programs and Operations Levy supports programs and people in Deer Park Schools. Additional details are available in a fact flyer available for download by clicking on the following link:  Educational Programs and Operations Renewal Levy – Fact Flyer. If you would like to speak with someone regarding the upcoming levy election, please contact either Superintendent Travis Hanson (e-mail) at 464-5507 or the District’s Business Manager Shauna Ferguson (e-mail) at 464-5506.

FAQ

Answers to a number of frequently asked questions about the Educational Programs and Operations Levy.

(click on any of the questions below for more information)

How often are voters asked to renew the Educational Programs and Operations levy?

The last levy election was in 2018. As with the vast majority of the area’s school districts, Deer Park School District operates on a 3-year levy cycle. Thus, every third year it becomes necessary to renew/replace the expiring Educational Programs and Operations Levy. In Deer Park, approximately $4.5 million dollars are provided through the local levy and associated state levy assistance. Deer Park School District voters have a long tradition of supporting Deer Park schools through the passing of an Educational Programs and Operations Levy. It is important to note that without taxpayer approval of a local levy, the district is not eligible to collect state levy equalization dollars.

Does the Educational Programs and Operations Levy represent a new tax?

No, the Educational Programs and Operations levy is not a new tax. In February of 2018, Deer Park voters renewed an expiring three-year levy to be collected through 2021. As that levy is set to expire at the end of 2021, the district is asking voters to renew the Educational Programs and Operations levy for 2022, 2023, and 2024. Should this three-year Educational Programs and Operations levy be approved on February 9th, voters would not be asked to approve another renewal EP&O levy until February 2023.

How have tax rates fluctuated in Deer Park - at least as it pertains to school-related taxes?

There are two local school taxes that make up the “total tax rate” for taxpayers in Deer Park – the EP & O levy and the Bond debt that funded the renovation and expansion of Deer Park High School. Our local levy and bond dollars, when approved by voters, provide funds that stay in our community and help our students. Deer Park’s Board of Directors has worked hard over the past decade to maintain great programs and excellent facilities for the community, while simultaneously providing a stable tax rate.

The chart below shows the story of the total tax rate in Deer Park over the past 1o years. As you can see, after reaching a high of $5.70 in 2015, the total tax rate in Deer Park decreased to $3.98 in 2020. The significant reduction in local taxes in 2019 was the result of a change in the State property tax, but even with an $.80 increase in the state tax, Deer Park’s total tax rate remained at levels consistent with where the total tax rate was back in 2010…and that rate will decrease again in 2021.

What does the Educational Programs and Operations levy pay for?

The monies collected through the Educational Programs and Operations levy make up the difference between what it costs to operate schools and what the State actually provides to school districts. People are often surprised at the long list of people and programs supported by levy revenues. Examples of people, programs, and items supported in whole or part by local levy funds include a number of classified and certificated staff positions district-wide, sports programs, co-curricular programs (like music & theater programs), bullying prevention and social/emotional learning, college-in-the-classroom offerings, technology replacement and repair, classrooms supplies, equipment for playgrounds as well as for facility maintenance, utility costs, insurance, fuel.

The fact is that while State funding does provide districts with a basic level of funding, the actual costs a district incurs on a yearly basis far exceeds the amount that State funding provides.

Is it true that the existence of extra-curricular and activities programs are dependent on local levy dollars?

It is indeed true that the state provides NO funding for extra-curricular activities in public schools.  A portion of the funds collected through an Educational Programs and Operations Levy provides funding for coaches, advisors, equipment, as well as event expenses for all extra-curricular activities. Additionally, all co-curricular programs (i.e. – music, band, drama) and field trip opportunities are supported through the collection of local levy funds.

Extra-curricular and co-curricluar school programs benefit a significant percentage of the total student population and also allow many students who may not otherwise have the opportunity to take part in activities that are personally meaningful and fulfilling. Local levy dollars support the continued existence of these enrichment programs and the valuable role they play in a comprehensive and fulfilling educational experience.

What happens if the Educational Programs & Operations levy doesn't pass?

In the absence of local levy funds, the District’s operating budget would be reduced by approximately $4.5 million dollars – many levy supported programs and positions would need to be cut. As is the case in any financial emergency, school district administrators would work closely with the Board of Directors to identify where cuts/program reductions would be made as well as any other necessary adjustments in expenditures in order to balance the district’s budget.

The simple fact is that the loss of levy funding would have a significant impact on educational programs and jobs throughout the entire system. Additionally, even though co-curricular and extra-curricular represent a relatively small portion of overall levy expenditures, these programs are 100% levy dependent, and would most likely be casualties in the event of a levy failure.

Districts often say that "levies support learning" - what does that mean? What are some examples of this?

As a district’s most “discretionary” funds, the monies collected via the local levy are spent in many ways. That said, the Educational Programs & Operations Levy supports a number of important teaching and learning supports, allowing the district to provide significant enhancements to staffing, curricular materials, and technology. The following are examples of the way Deer Park Schools uses levy funds:

  • reduce class size through increased staffing. Levy dollars allow us to reduce the average size of a K-6 classroom.
  • provide additional para-educator support – para-educators play a vital role in the daily operations of our schools and support learning in many ways in each of our buildings.
  • provide updated materials for core curricular areas. In the past few years, we’ve been able to update all core materials and add a number of STEM programs.
  • hire certified specialists in PE, music, and art.
  • equip our classrooms with up-to-date technology: we’ve greatly expanded wireless access throughout the district, enhanced instructional technology in every building, and equipped each classroom in the district with a set of student laptops (Chromebooks).
  • support the high school credit retrieval program that, on an annual basis, helps dozens of students recover well over 100 credits – these credits are often necessary to help students graduate.
  • support college-in-the-classroom to offer students access to 18 courses representing a total of 78 possible college credits — right on the DPHS campus.
  • provides advanced opportunities for students through Project Lead the Way, including pre-engineering electives at Deer Park Middle School, as well as both engineering courses and bio-medical sciences at the high school.
What is levy equalization/local effort assistance?

Washington’s Levy Equalization program, also referred to as Local Effort Assistance (LEA), is rooted in the state’s desire to provide some degree of levy equity between school districts (LEA does not make things equal, but at least a bit more equitable). The state addresses inequities in the local levy system by recognizing that taxpayers in school districts with above average tax rates due to low property valuations are at a disadvantage to school districts in areas with high property valuations – areas where low tax rate can generate significant dollar amounts for local schools.

In this way, Local Effort Assistance dollars provided by the state level the playing field by providing additional levy support to communities (school districts) that would otherwise pay excessive tax rates compared to what “property rich” communities around the State would pay. A district like Deer Park benefits significantly from LEA dollars. In fact, when taxpayers pass the local EP & O levy in the Deer Park School District, the district benefits from over $2 million annually in additional state assistance provided via levy equalization.  With that said, it is vital to understand that districts must pass their local levy in order to qualify for LEA dollars – if a district does not pass a local levy, the District is ineligible to receive any LEA dollars from the state.

What's the difference between an Educational Programs and Operations Levy and a Bond Measure?

An Educational Programs & Operations Levy is a local property tax, authorized by voters in a taxing district (in this case, school, district) used to enrich the educational experience for students, provide additional (often necessary positions), maintain facilities, and fill gaps in funding where state apportionment monies come up short. The upcoming levy is a “renewal levy” because it renews a previous tax levied on property owners through voter approval. In the upcoming special election (February 9, 2021) voters are being asked to consider renewing this levy for another three years. Deer Park’s Board of Directors has requested that the new levy rate remain at or as close to the current $1.50 as possible (the $1.50 rate is the lowest allowable rate in order to maximize state levy assistance monies).

That being said, it’s important to remember that the EP & O levy is very different from a Bond Measure which seeks to provide funding to pay for large scale construction or modernization of buildings and facilities. Bonds cannot be used to operate schools or pay for student programs; it is probably easiest to think of bonds like a home mortgage; bonds are incurred debt and are generally carried for a period of 10 to 20 years. The DPHS modernization project completed in 2010 was paid for using bond funds – incidentally, these bonds will be paid for in 2024 and 2025.

Can you explain how levy rates are determined and how it's linked to the assessed valuation of my property?

Property taxes are the primary funding source for Washington’s public schools. There are two types of property tax levies supporting the states school system: the state school levy paid by all Washington property owners (these funds provides “basic education” funding for the state’s public schools) and special local “enrichment” levies approved by voters in a specific school district. Revenues from special school levies may only be used for that school district.

In general, property tax systems can be either rate-based or levy-based. In a rate-based system, the taxing authority sets a tax rate. The rate is then multiplied by the assessed value of the property in that jurisdiction. In this manner, the tax is directly tied to assessed value. Property tax collections increase or decrease with property values. Washington State is one of two states that use a levy-based property tax system as opposed to rate-based system. Under Washington’s levy-based system, state law allows a taxing district to collect a specified total dollar amount per year (the amount to be levied). The county assessor calculates the actual tax rate by dividing the amount to be levied by the total value of all property within the taxing jurisdiction. The tax rate is typically expressed in dollars per $1,000 of assessed value. So, if the total value of property within a jurisdiction falls, the rate would increase to raise the same amount of money. Likewise, if property values increase, then the rate would decrease to collect the same amount of money.

Furthermore, seeing that the levy-based system is are set for a fixed dollar amount, the county is only authorized to collect that amount, regardless of whether property values go up or down.  The taxing agency (in this case, the school district) can request that the county collect less than the amount approved by voters, but cannot ask the county to collect more. Asking the county to collect less than the approved amount is often done in order to target a particular tax rate – for example $1.50 per $1000 of assessed value.

Thus, if all property values in a particular area go up, then a smaller rate per thousand is assessed to collect the total amount approved. In areas where new houses built and new businesses open, more taxpayers are being added to the jurisdiction and everyone’s piece of the total amount to be collected gets smaller – again, the district does not receive more money, the amount to be levied is simply spread across a larger number of taxpayers.

I've heard that levy tax exemptions are available to senior citizens - is that true?

Yes. Senior citizens and disabled citizens may be eligible for an exemption for all or part of levy collection when specific income criteria are met. The exemption applies to the primary residence and land on which it sits, up to one acre (up to five acres are allowed if zoning permits it). For application and further information, you can download the Washington State Dept. of Revenue FACT SHEET, or call (509) 477-5754 in Spokane County and (509) 684-6161 in Stevens County.

SCHOOL FUNDING BASICS

Understanding basic education funding, local enrichment levies, and the realities of state revenue for public schools.

What follows is a quick read (and great oversimplification!) regarding how schools are funded in Washington and some basic information about how that affects our fiscal reality in Deer Park School District. If you would like more detailed information about Deer Park School District’s sources of revenue as well as its expenditures, please download our CITIZEN’S GUIDE TO THE BUDGET.  Thanks to the Lake Washington School District for many of the facts and insights that make up the basis of the information that follows.

Washington’s Basic Education Act:
Passed in 1977, the Basic Education Act defines formulas used to fund a basic education for school districts in Washington state and thus what the state will pay for. The intent was that local levies would be used to pay for extras in a school district – enhancements that local taxpayers wanted to fund above and beyond “the basics” of day to day education.

Funding for operations is capped:
Basic education funding from the state, otherwise known as state general education funds, makes up 67% percent of the 2017-18 budget for our district. For just about every district in the state, general education funds make up the majority of its annual revenues.

Generally speaking, the various elements of the current funding system were put into place so that access to education remained relatively equal across the state:  the idea was that students in a poor area of Washington should not receive an education substantially worse than students in a more affluent area of our state. As a result, districts are limited in how much money they can raise through local levies (what was previously called a “local levy lid,” is now a limitation on the local levy rate – $1.50).

Local levy dollars come from property taxes and provide additional money for enrichment programs as well as general operations. Local levy dollars were intended to provide schools with a revenue source for the “extras” – that is, for staffing or programming beyond what is provided in state basic education funds. Unfortunately, in recent years, local levies have come to be used for things that most people now expect schools to offer, rather than “extras” beyond what’s funded through state basic education funding. For example, the state funds five periods in high school but students need at least six periods to get the mix of core and elective classes that prepare them to be college and career ready. Local levy dollars pay for that sixth period in Deer Park Schools (and in just about every other school district in our state). Additionally, local levy dollars pay for a number of certificated and classified staff positions, technology, security enhancements, and general costs of keeping school buildings open among many other items. Local levy dollars are the sole source of extra and co-curricular programs in Deer Park. This revenue source represents about 16% (8% local collections, 8% state funded levy equalization) of Deer Park School District’s annual operating budget.

Increasingly, state dollars are provided through what are called state categorical funds, those earmarked for specific purposes such as special education, transportation, and English Language Learner education. These dollars are not available for use in other programs for other purposes.

Federal dollars are relatively few:  about 7% of the district’s operating budget comes from the federal government. That money is also earmarked for specific purposes, such as special education, Title I (educational support for low-income students), Title II (teacher training and Highly Qualified support), as well as support for free and reduced prices lunches.

If state general funds, state earmarked funds and local levy dollars do not cover the costs of running a school district, there are few legal options for the district to raise more money. School districts can charge fees for some programs, like extended day, athletics or school lunches, but the ability to charge money is also limited:  students are guaranteed a free education.

Money for building schools and buying big items (buses, technology) is raised through separate ballot measures such as capital levies and bonds. These dollars can only be spent on that specific purpose. They can’t be transferred to the general operating fund to pay for something else. So a district can’t, for example, decide to use money from a technology levy earmarked for new computers to pay for more teachers: that would be illegal. Schools also can’t decide to use the money set aside for modernizing schools to pay for anything in the general operating budget, like staffing, supplies or textbooks.

Since Basic Education was defined in 1979, though, the world has changed and the requirements for education have changed. Schools are held accountable for their performance through state-defined standards. They must adhere to the No Child Left Behind requirements.

At the same time, Washington’s national ranking for per pupil funding has dropped to 34th in the country, or 45th if adjusted for cost of living. Washington also has the nation’s fifth-largest class sizes and is below average on teacher compensation.