Federal Way schools seek financial help from voters

Federal Way Public Schools is preparing to put two ballot propositions before the voters on Feb. 14, 2012.

The first, known as the Education Programs and Operations (EPO) levy, is a continuation of a current levy Federal Way taxpayers approved three years ago, but is set to expire in 2012. The second will be a capital levy to help with the renovation/rebuilding of Federal Way High School.

Sally McLean, assistant superintendent for business services, explained both levy proposals and their impact on the community.

“We are seeking to place two ballot propositions in front of our voters. One is what I refer to as the replacement education programs and operations levy because quite frankly, our educational programs and operations levy is spent primarily on things that many of us would argue are basic educational costs,” McLean told the school board Oct. 25.

For the EPO levy, McLean said as of now, the district plans to make it a two-year levy that asks for somewhere between $45 million and $53 million.

If the district is able to ask for $45 million, then the impact would be minimal to taxpayers because it would essentially be the same levy they’ve supported over the past few years.

The $53 million number is in play, McLean said, because of possible cuts to what’s known as Local Effort Assistance (LEA) funds from the state.

The LEA funds are used to help financially equalize districts that have been historically underfunded. This money is under threat of a two-thirds reduction from the state Legislature. Federal Way currently receives $7.7 million in LEA funds, but if those cuts take place, it would leave the district in a serious bind.

“That local effort assistance, that $7.7 million, if you just look at it as teaching positions…it supports 92 teaching positions and various positions,” McLean said. “Obviously you can translate that into a variety of different things, but I think that’s the boldest way you can look at that. And, it’s property tax relief. It’s important to our taxpayers, without Local Effort Assistance, our taxpayers will pay $167 more on average than their neighbors in order to generate the same amount of funding.”

Because of this, the school district is trying to cover all of its bases, and will ask for $53 million through the EPO levy. If the LEA funds are kept whole, then the district would be legally required to roll back the EPO levy to $45 million, McLean said.

Rebuilding Federal Way High School

For the capital levy, McLean said the district plans to ask for $60 million over six years. This levy’s primary purpose is to rebuild the aging Federal Way High School.

Due to the unique economic times, McLean said the district has already saved $50 million for this project. McLean said this levy may be the first time the school district has had the chance to ask voters to approve a capital levy project, instead of asking the voters to support a bond.

“It’s exciting because we get to pay as we go, rather than borrowing,” McLean said. “Because with a bond, we sell those bonds, but we’re borrowing money. Overall, doing a capital levy will be less costly to taxpayers because there will be no interest payments involved.”

The district anticipates the tax rate for the EPO levy would be $3.50, while the anticipated tax rate for the capital levy would be 85 cents.

“(I would) remind us all of us that we’ve been outstanding stewards of public funds between the ability to manage our tax collections during this recession, to not increase taxes. It has been well worth the effort. And to even contemplate rebuilding Federal Way High School without issuing bonds is a terrific place to be,” McLean said. “This is your opportunity to ask our voters to continue to invest in our students’ futures.”

A more detailed proposal for both of these levy propositions will be presented at the Nov. 8 school board meeting.


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