San Juan Island School District looks to renew levy, in wake of state education tax hike

San Juan Island School District looks to renew levy, in wake of state education tax hike

San Juan County homeowners are already feeling the squeeze of higher property taxes to fund education at the state level, and now more could be taxed locally.

Washington legislators passed a new law last year to provide more state funds to public schools by raising property taxes across the state.

However, most of that revenue isn’t for local students, according to the San Juan Island School District Board, who is sending the renewal of their property tax levy to the April 24 special election ballot.

Revenue from the state education levy is distributed across Washington school districts, while all of the SJISD levy’s revenue will stay at home.

Local

This April, voters in the San Juan Island School District will decide whether to renew a four-year property tax levy. The levy will take effect in 2019, just as the last voter-approved levy expires.

If the measure is approved, the district will tax property owners about 12 percent less in 2019 than the year before. This will cost the owner of a median-valued home ($537,500) in San Juan County about $317 in 2019.

This levy reduction is part of the new state law, which, according to lawmakers, will “fully fund” basic education, in part, by capping how much districts can raise locally.

The idea is that with the state supplying more funds through its own property tax levy, local districts won’t have to depend on raising local money. This prevents areas with high property values like San Juan County from generating more local tax revenue than areas with lower property values, creating a more equitable funding system.

With this new levy restriction in the state law, the district’s 2019 projected revenue is about $400,000 less than what the levy brought in the year before. Locals’ property taxes are rising, but all of the revenue isn’t staying on the island.

“If schools are important to you, you’ll vote yes for this levy,” said Brent Snow, who heads a committee to promote the local measure’s passing.

According to school board documents, the new levy revenue will cover 17 percent of what the state deems is outside of its duties to fund “basic” public education. For SJISD, this includes items the district is already providing today, such as summer school, after-school programs, classes for music, art, advanced placement class and special education, and additional teachers to ensure smaller classroom sizes.

The language on ballots will request the highest taxable amount at about 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, but Snow said the district will most likely never use the maximum rate.

State

Last October, Washington lawmakers passed a bill to “fully fund” basic public education.” The bill was adopted to satisfy a state Supreme Court case called the McCleary Decision, which ruled that the state was not providing enough funds for public schools, as written in its constitution.

To supply more funds, the state raised property taxes throughout Washington.

This year, an owner of a median-valued home ($537,500) in San Juan County will pay about $419 more than the owner of a median-valued home last year.

At the end of the last state Legislative session, which closed on March 8, lawmakers passed a one-time property tax cut for taxes to be filed in 2019, reducing the rate by about 50 cents. However, the tax returns to the initial rate for taxes to be filed in 2020 and 2021. Currently, that bill is on the governor’s desk to sign.