Federal Way taxpayers will pay more for education
By KYRA LOW
Federal Way Mirror Reporter
May 14, 2010 · Updated 1:42 PM
The passage of Senate and House Bill 2893 means that Federal Way schools will avoid making any major cuts this year. That doesn't mean the school district is in favor of the bill.
Senate and House Bill 2893, which passed during the last legislative session, allowed school districts to lift levies by 4 percent.
"It's a short-term solution to a long-term problem," Chief Financial Officer Sally McLean said at a presentation to the school board Tuesday night.
Levy lids were created in the 1980s and set statewide at 24 percent. However, many districts were grandfathered in at their current rate, which was higher than the 24 percent. Federal Way's rate is set at 24.9 percent.
With the state bumping the rate up 4 percent for every district, the district can now collect 28.9 percent. This now means that Federal Way residents are paying more for education, rather than the state, which made the cuts.
"They're shifting it to the local voters," McLean said. "It violates the state constitution."
Levies weren't originally meant to pay for basic education. They were designed to help pay for supplemental education, like art programs, McLean said. However, McLean said that at her last check, two-thirds of the levy funds were going toward basic education costs in Federal Way.
The bill, by simply upping the levy amount, does not fix the inequality of student funding, according to the district. In the past, the district has stood by that assertion, writing letters to legislators and even embarking on a court case in an attempt to force the state to "fully fund" education.
Under the new 4 percent increase, the same inequities are still there, McLean said.
For example, comparing Federal Way to Bellevue, the levy dollars collected in Bellevue are $2,392 per student. In Federal Way, even with the state's contribution to the levy equalization, the amount is only $2,107. It may not seem a lot at first glance, but that $285 difference can add up. The district has over 21,000 students, multiply that by the $285 and the district could be getting another $5.9 million if they were funded the same as Bellevue.
In addition, Bellevue doesn't have to pay as much for that education levy, according to numbers presented by McLean.
Bellevue, and other similar districts are property rich districts, with a $39.8 billion assessed valuation. Federal Way is substantially lower, at $12 billion. That means that even to get that aforementioned student funding amounts, Bellevue has a local tax rate of only $0.94 per $1,000 assessed value. Federal Way residents on the other hand, have $3.94. The average home value in Bellevue, according to McLean, is $470,110 and the average homeowner's tax is $442. Meanwhile in Federal Way, the average home value is $200,998 and the average homeowner pays $651.
The district believes that "SHB 2893 just compounds the inequalities that currently exist in local levies and shifts more of the state's constitutional obligation to fund basic education to local voters," McLean said.Contact Federal Way Mirror Reporter Kyra Low at firstname.lastname@example.org or (253) 925-5565.