Voters hold sway over 20 percent of school district funding

The San Juan Island School District is asking voters to approve renewal of the four-year maintenance and operations levy at the polls on Feb. 11.

The levy will raise $2.1 million in 2015, and is anticipated to rise in stages to $2.3 million by 2018.

The money raised by the property tax comprises more than 20-percent of the district's budget of about $8.8 million. The 2015 levy will raise about $100,000 more than it did in 2011, the first year of the current M&O levy, which expires at the end of 2014.

Among other things, the school district points out that the levy will help fund additional teaching positions, staffing for music, visual arts, libraries and technology programs, Advanced Placement and community-based courses, and extended and alternative learning opportunities.

Noting that a 30-student enrollment reduction in SJISD classrooms has reduced the amount received from the state by a corresponding amount, district Superintendent Richard Thompson emphasizes that the levy is crucial "to stabilize funding and to maintain as best as possible the local funding source which goes to support high quality education."

A supplemental source of funding made available to public school districts, subject to local voter approval, the M&O levy is one of several tax-supported revenue streams at work for San Juan Island schools.

In 2012, voters passed a four-year Capital and Technology Levy that will raise $3.76 million over four years for facility improvements and for technology. Two-thirds of the electorate voted for the C&T levy. Revenue generated by this levy went to pay for recent upgrades to Friday Harbor Elementary School such as the siding, windows, roof, restroom, and HVAC improvements.

The M&O levy rate starts at $.78 per $1,000 of assessed value, or about $234 on a home assessed at $300,000. In 2018, the last year of the four-year levy, that rate is expected to be slightly more that $.81 per thousand, just over $243 on a $300,000 home. 

The district also receives funding from grants and private donations. A special state grant will pay $1 million for renovating the building to provide the future home of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) curriculum. Island Rec provides about $250,000 to the high school's athletic programs through its levy, approved by voters as well, and a private benefactor recently announced a $1 million challenge grant to finish the Carter Street athletic fields, owned by the school district.

Prior school levies have passed with 65 to 70 percent of the vote. Since 2008, school levies need only receive a majority of "yes" votes, not the 60 percent of votes previously required.

— Steve Wehrly

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