The Kent School District will have two levies on the Nov. 7, 2023 ballot. COURTESY PHOTO, Kent School District

The Kent School District will have two levies on the Nov. 7, 2023 ballot. COURTESY PHOTO, Kent School District

Two Kent School District levies to be on Nov. 7 ballot

Educational Programs and Operations Levy; plus Capital Projects and Technology measure

Voters in the Kent School District will be asked to approve two levies on the Nov. 7 ballot.

The Kent School Board voted 5-0 on July 26 to send each measure to the ballot. One is a four-year replacement Educational Programs and Operations Levy and the other is a four-year Capital Projects and Technology Levy.

“These levies are crucial to continue providing a well-rounded education for every student, ensuring safe and conducive learning environments, and achieving our mission of successfully preparing all students for their futures.” Superintendent Israel Vela said in a July 27 district news release. “Together, we can continue making a difference in the lives of our students in the Kent School District.”

Kent school leaders hope for a better outcome on the levies than the proposed $495 million bond measure in April that voters soundly turned down. The bond needed 60% approval but received only 48%. The levies will need 50% approval to help pay for operations and upgrades at the district’s 44 schools that house more than 25,000 students.

That lopsided bond measure loss caused district staff and the board to forego another bond proposal at this time and instead go for the two levies in November rather than submit the levies to voters in February 2024, a more typical month for the vote since each levy expires at the end of 2024. The board didn’t discuss when it might seek another bond to pay for major facility renovations.

Voters approved a two-year Educational Programs and Operations Levy in 2022 with 53.8% in favor to bring in about $76 million per year in 2023 and 2024. Voters barely approved a six-year Capital Projects and Technology Levy in 2018 with 50.02% in favor to bring in about $146 million over six years. A two-year Educational Programs and Operations Levy in 2018 received 50.53% approval to bring in $94 million over two years.

When Kent sought a $252 million bond in 2016, it failed in April 2016 by 218 votes (59%) to get the 60% majority. The district brought back the same measure in November 2016 and it received 67% approval.

Ben Rarick, district executive director of budget and finance, told the board July 26 prior to its vote that 70% of funding for the district comes from the state, 15% from levies and 15% from federal and other funds. He said the levies will need to fund about 20% with less federal monies expected.

Rarick said the Educational Programs and Operations Levy will fund about 15% of the general fund, including monies for athletics, music and arts, which are not funded by the state. The levy also would fund special education, advanced learning programs and multilingual education.

The Capital Projects and Tech Levy would fund the district’s 1-to-1 laptop program, which provides a laptop to each student in the district, and pay to modernize safety systems, including intrusion and fire alarms. Monies also would be used to upgrade HVAC systems, roof and boiler replacements, installation of synthetic fields at high schools, new flooring, paint and expand the preschool program to each elementary school.

“We’ve been through this multiple times and it’s very clear it’s absolutely essential to maintain a high quality educational system from public safety to fundamental needs of maintaining an older system,” board member Tim Clark said prior to the levy vote.

Rarick said there’s a big difference between bond and levy measures.

“One thing I want to emphasize, with a bond not passed, we live another day,” he said. “We can’t afford a negative outcome (with the levies).”

Rarick said the levies help pay for salaries and programs needed to operate the district.

“The bond had more of a feel of we hope we pass it,” Rarick said. “This is not a hope we need to pass this levy, as a district to continue our momentum it is that big, that substantial and that fundamental to our program and that means we need to galvanize support in this district.”

Several of the projects on the Capital Projects and Technology Levy also were on the bond measure, although the bond included more projects and more spending.

Critics of levies

Lori Waight, who runs a KSD Discussion Group Facebook page, with about 5,600 member, to discuss happenings in the Kent School District (KSD), sent an email July 27 to the school board to object to the language it approved in the Capital Projects and Technology Levy resolution that gives district staff the option to change how funds are spent.

“The board has now signed away budget oversight,” Waight said. “This is a clear violation of the sworn duty of your elected office.”

The language in the resolution that Waight objected to includes:

“If the District shall determine that it has become impracticable to accomplish any of such improvements or portions thereof by reason of changed conditions or needs, incompatible development, costs substantially in excess of those estimated, or acquisition by a superior governmental authority, the District shall not be required to accomplish such improvement and may apply levy proceeds as set forth in this section.

“If any or all of the improvements have been completed, or their completion duly provided for, or their completion found to be impractical, the District may apply the levy proceeds or any portion thereof to other portions of the improvements or to other capital purposes of the District, as the District in its discretion shall determine.

“Notwithstanding any provision of this resolution to the contrary, levy proceeds may only be used to support the construction, modernization or remodeling of school facilities or implementation of the District’s technology program.”

Waight asked that the board call an emergency meeting to remove this language the would allow staff to make spending changes.

“If the language remains, our family will publicly not support either levy,” Waight said.

Allison Riley, another member of the KSD Discussion Group, also sent an email to the board with similar concerns.

“The board has to approve money movements,” Riley said. “This resolution, as it stands, is an attempt to avoid reallocation votes or votes concerning public funds. This is not budget oversight, and following community feedback from the recently failed bond, this language is concerning and dismissive of public concern.”

Funds to collect

If approved by voters, the Educational Programs and Operations Levy will bring in $79.3 million to the district in 2025 from 2024 tax collections; $82.5 million in 2026; and $85.8 million in 2027, according to district documents.

Those totals are based on a tax rate of $1.72 per $1,000 assessed property value for 2025, 2026 and 2027.

If approved by voters, the Capital Projects and Technology Levy will bring in $29.2 million to the district in 2024 from taxes collected in 2023; $60.9 million in 2025; $63.4 million in 2026; and $65.9 million in 2027, according to the district.

Those totals are based on a tax rate of $0.66 per $1,000 assessed property value in 2024; and $1.32 per $1,000 assessed property value in 2025, 2026 and 2027.

District officials want voter approval in November in order to collect $29.2 million on the Capital Projects and Technology Levy in 2024, funds they say are needed to maintain facilities.

Cost to taxpayers

If both levies are approved by voters, the owner of a home valued at $500,000 would pay about $1,832 per year in 2024, an increase of about $62 or 3.5% from the $1,770 collected in 2023 for the current levy measures, Rarick said. District staff estimated about a 3.5% increase each year in property taxes.

“The average home value is more (than $500,000), but it provides a number people can scale for their home,” Rarick said.

Rarick said the projected property tax bill for a $500,000 home, if voters approve each levy, would be about $1,901 in 2025; $2,008 in 2026; and $2,108 in 2027.

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