Federal Way schools join fight to keep state levy money

The Federal Way School District has joined a consortium of school districts to fight to keep an important source of state funding.

The Federal Way School Board on March 22 approved an inter-local agreement that joins Federal Way with 11 other districts to work in favor of levy base issues and for levy equalization funds, which the state pays to districts with smaller tax bases so that local levy rates remain low.

Gov. Chris Gregoire’s proposed 2011-13 budget reduces levy equalization funds. Federal Way’s estimated loss in levy equalization based on the governor’s budget is around $400,000.

In total, the district gets around $7 million in levy equalization, all of which could be at stake.

Assistant Superintendent of Business Affairs Sally McLean noted that levy equalization funds are not protected under the state constitution, and could be cut at the whim of lawmakers.

The consortium will target legislators in both houses as they form state budget bills to ensure that levy equalization is not cut.

The consortium will also target active legislation that gets at the issue of levies. School districts have rallied around two bills, House bills 1814 and 1815. House bill 1814 is no longer active, but 1815 passed in the House and is now in a Senate subcommittee. That law provides a different way for school districts to calculate maintenance and operations levies.

Both houses of the Legislature will work on their own versions of the state budget between now and when the body is scheduled to adjourn on April 24. The Legislature’s budget is usually released toward the end of March, and could be done sometime this week. The state’s budget deficit is hovering around $5 billion.

The inter-local agreement joins Federal Way with the Everett, Bellevue, Bellingham, Highline, Issaquah, Lake Stevens, Mercer Island, Northshore, Snohomish, Spokane and Tacoma school districts.

Federal Way has joined with other school districts in the past to sue the state over education funding — specifically, special education funding. McLean said that it was not foreseeable that this partnership would result in a lawsuit.

Each district involved in the inter-local agreement pays a fee of $15,000, which goes toward paying for attorneys and other operations. McLean said that Federal Way would be represented in the consortium by herself and Superintendent Robert Neu. The consortium has also retained lobbyist Charlie Brown to work on behalf of levy base and levy equalization issues.

McLean ruled out that the consortium would set up a political lobbying group and that officials from the associated districts would be lobbying in favor of supporting levy equalization assistance.

The inter-local agreement has an initial term of April 1 to Aug. 31. The agreement automatically renews itself for the next fiscal year, between Sept. 1 and Aug. 31, 2012.


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