Students listen to a lesson at TAF@Saghalie school in Federal Way. An educational programs and operations levy voters are being asked to approve in a Feb. 13 special election comprises 10 percent of the school district’s budget and supports teachers, nurses and security officers, as well as educational programs. Courtesy Federal Way Public Schools

Students listen to a lesson at TAF@Saghalie school in Federal Way. An educational programs and operations levy voters are being asked to approve in a Feb. 13 special election comprises 10 percent of the school district’s budget and supports teachers, nurses and security officers, as well as educational programs. Courtesy Federal Way Public Schools

A lot at stake with Feb. 13 Federal Way school district levy vote

Wrong information provided to Seattle Times leads to confusion.

With Federal Way residents being asked to approve an educational programs and operations levy on Feb. 13, school district officials are setting the record straight regarding property taxes and how much of a hit people will feel in the future.

Federal Way school district officials and staff have been questioned about recent information printed in and then clarified by the Seattle Times regarding property tax bills and how that pertains with the school district’s EP&O levy.

Based on inaccurate information given, it was initially reported that Federal Way residents with a median-valued home of $301,000 will see a 21.1 percent increase to property tax bills. When questioned by district officials, it was later determined that percentage change and amount was incorrect. Hazel Gantz with the King County Assessor’s Office confirmed Tuesday in an email that the median value change from 2017 to 2018 is 11.5 percent. So residents with a median-valued home of $301,000 will pay approximately $433.84 more, rather than $794 more as was initially reported. The $433.84 includes all property taxes assessed to property owners, including the state schools tax and King County taxes plus those paid to various districts, such as the school district and to libraries.

“The school district levies that are voter approved are the same dollar amount for 2018 as they were in 2017 and 2016,” said Sally McLean, Federal Way Public Schools chief finance and operations officer. “So the school district’s taxes are not going up. The state schools tax is an increase, but we know when we get to 2019, when our local levy drops by $20 million, that our homeowners should actually see a reduction in their tax bills.”

In 2019, residents will see a tax decrease of 37 percent when the amount paid to the school district goes from $3.58 per $1,000 assessed property value to $1.50 per $1,000 in property value.

All together, when the state schools tax and the Federal Way Public School property tax amounts are combined, taxpayers with a median-home value of $310,000 will see a decrease of $630 beginning in 2019.

“We just think it’s important to continue the message of the fact that we’re honoring the intent of the Legislature as they’re giving us more money through the state’s school tax, that’s where it’s coming from, we’re reducing the burden on our local taxpayers by reducing our local levy,” McLean said.

Should the Feb. 13 EP&O levy of $33 million fail, the school district faces a 10 percent hit to its budget. Taxpayers have approved the levy since 1980.

Reiterating a previous message the school district has presented, McLean said bonds build buildings and “levies support the learning inside those buildings.

“The loss of a $33 million local levy piece will be decimating to the instructional programs that we offer,” she said. “I mean, to contemplate the reduction of 300 staff plus other activities if we don’t have that support is overwhelming to think about.”

McLean said, like other school districts, Federal Way has weathered shortfalls in the past, but the largest it has dealt with was $10 million, which resulted in the loss of programs that were valuable to students.

The 300 staff that could be cut if the levy does not pass includes teachers, nurses, bus drivers and security staff, plus money for programs such as special education, athletics, music and advanced classes and offerings.

“So there’s a lot at stake with that EP&O levy,” said Kassie Swenson, FWPS chief of communications and strategy.

While the amount of state funding dedicated to schools has improved following the McCleary decision, Swenson said 47 percent of the EP&O levy still goes toward basic education costs.

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