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School board OKs education levy for Feb. 19 ballot

Voters will decide Feb. 19 whether to approve funding for about 30 percent of the Federal Way School District’s operating expenses.

This education, programs and operations (EP&O) levy would replace the current four-year levy that expires at the end of the 2007-2008 school year.

Washington state provides about 70 percent of the district’s education funding, and levies make up the difference in what state money doesn’t cover.

On Oct. 23, the Federal Way School Board voted 4-1 to place the proposed replacement levy before voters.

The dissenting vote came from board member Charlie Hoff, who disagreed with the district’s allocation of levy funds toward areas outside the classroom.

The levy will help pay for 43 teachers and 41 classified full-time staff. The latter category includes information technology employees, security, school resource officers and crossing guards as well as positions that fulfill unfunded state mandates regarding the 13th year plan and truancy policies.

Levy funds also support transportation, special education and textbook adoption.

“We’re looking at positions we use to do our everyday work,” said district spokeswoman Diane Turner. “This is a renewal of that money that supports additional staff.”

The school district has been forced to make nearly $14 million in cuts to staff and programs over the past eight years, said Superintendent Tom Murphy. These cutbacks have affected school librarians, athletics, music and art programs.

Should this proposed levy not pass in February, “we won’t be able to continue our day-to-day operations at the same level,” Turner said, noting that the district would face significant reductions. “The school board will make the decisions as to where that occurs.”

School districts have two opportunities in a calendar year to ask voters to approve a levy.

If the levy fails in February, district chief financial officer Sally McLean said she expects the board would try again in April.

The levy shouldn’t be confused with the recently approved school construction bond. A levy pays for the district’s educational and school operations, while the bond pays for school construction and repair.

Contact Andy Hobbs: editor@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

Numbers to know:

The levy will provide $36 million in 2009, $39 million in 2010, $42 million in 2011, and $45 million in 2012, according to the district.

About 72 percent of funds will go to basic education, 18 percent toward special education, 8 percent for transportation and 2 percent for English language learning.

The tax rate for the expiring levy is $2.83 per $1,000 of assessed property valuation. For the replacement levy, the tax rate will be $2.74 per $1,000.

Combined with the current technology levy and the recently approved construction bond, the total tax rate is $4.19 per $1,000 of assessed property valuation.

The Federal Way School District is able to spend about $1,435 per student, according to the district. The average per-pupil spending in Washington state is $1,471. The average for King County overall is $1,835.

It would take an additional $9 million a year in order to bring Federal Way up to par with the King County average, said Sally McLean, chief financial officer for the district.

To learn more, visit www.fwps.org.

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