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June 17, 2019

2/24/2016 8:36:00 AM
School district tries second bite at the apple
Sandy Stokes

With two levies totaling close to $1.5 million rejected by voters this month, La Conner School District has shaved a half million and half the time off its request and will put it up for election again, the school board decided on Monday.
In a special election set for April 26, voters in the La Conner School District will decide on a proposed one-year levy of $995,000, which is estimated to account for $2.08 per $1,000 of assessed valuation on property tax bills.
Should this proposed levy pass, taxpayers in the La Conner district would be assessed an estimated total of $4.98 for the schools portion of the tax bills — that amount includes the $20 million construction bond voters approved in 2013.
Last Thursday the board held a town hall meeting which drew more than 200 people, who were asked to put sticky dots on charts indicating what programs they didn’t want to cut and how big a levy they’d be willing to consider.
Based on where the dots went, the majority in attendance only wanted to cut food services and gave the board a clear mandate to run the same levies again for two years.
Many of the actual taxpayers in attendance left with their dots still in their pockets, feeling outnumbered by school staff members and others who were there to champion for the levies.
Still, according to school board President Rick Thompson, the trustees “definitely got the lesson we need to tighten our belts,” he said Monday.
The board cancelled all the items on its regular meeting agenda on Monday to announce its new levy proposal and the resignations of school Superintendent Tim Bruce and Thompson.
At the start of the meeting, Thompson said he wanted to address the fairness issue concerning the tax situation — a shrunken number of people are shouldering the tax burden while the majority of people who vote on the taxes live on land the district can’t tax.
Shaving $500,000 off the proposal will go a long way toward alleviating the inequity caused by a federal court’s so-called Great Wolf Lodge decision that caused 931 parcels for structures owned on leased Swinomish Reservation land to be taken off the tax rolls.
Since most of the district’s students come from Shelter Bay, which is a non-tribal community built on leased land where buildings used to be taxed, and from Swinomish village, which was never taxed, many of the remaining taxpayers feel the situation is unfair.
The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community began assessing property tax on the non-tribal homeowners who built on leased reservation land, but it does not pass through the money it collects to the public agencies that used to rely on the funding.
Instead, the tribe donates a portion of the tax money it collects to some of the agencies — the school district is the largest beneficiary of the tribe’s contributions, receiving $400,000 last year and a pledge for $450,000 this year.
Despite the tribe’s donation, there was still a large funding gap to be picked up by the remaining taxpayers.
The new levy amount proposed, with the $500,000 reduction, will more than equalize the funding gap, which was $379,000 last year, Thompson said.
This time the ballot will not have a technology levy — only a reduced maintenance and operations levy of just under $1 million. Also, the district is asking for funding only for 2017, instead of seeking a two-year levy.
Meanwhile, there is movement in the state Legislature, which is under court order to adopt a plan to fully fund “basic education” by the end of its 2017 session next year. School districts state-wide have been relying on local levies for a portion of teacher pay, which the courts have found to be unconstitutional.
At the close of Monday’s school board meeting, Dave Buchan, a taxpayer who was a staunch opponent of the first levy go-round, told the school board, “I can support this.”
Kim Rubenstein, whose local taxes went up by about $3,000 in the Great Wolf tax shift, asked that the taxes be reduced and told the board: “I appreciate all the hard work you’ve done. The community wants to support the schools — in a reasonable way.”

Related Stories:
• Political signs stolen in La Conner
• Residents invited to help craft school budget before new levy vote

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