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Tri-City Herald editorial - RSD seeking two levies - here is why you should vote yes

Image Title: The District's one-to-one Chromebook initiative is just one program funded through local levy dollars.
The District's one-to-one Chromebook initiative is just one program funded through local levy dollars.
02/01/2018

From the Tri-City Herald Editorial Board......

The Richland School District has made a great start in its one-to-one Chromebook initiative, which aims to provide computer access to every student in second through 12th grade.

But it will be up to voters to help keep the program going.

Ballots for school levy requests were mailed last week in Benton County and are due February 13.

As a result of a new state system for financing schools, what used to be included in one levy proposal in Richland now must be split into two.

One request asks voters to approve the Educational Programs & Operations levy, which is capped at $1.50 per thousand of assessed valuation beginning in 2019.

This replaces the former maintenance and operations levy, which paid for a variety of programs in the school district — including technology — and expires at the end of this year.

The $1.50 amount is a new state cap on local levies, and is part of the plan to ensure the Legislature fulfills its constitutional duty to amply fund K-12 education.

It is significantly less than the current Richland school levy rate, which school officials say is $3.42 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

So that’s good news for Richland taxpayers.

For years, the state failed to give school districts enough money to cover many classroom basics. To make up the difference, communities that could afford it used local tax money to bridge the difference.

However, that resulted in an imbalanced system throughout the state. Students in wealthier areas had more resources than those in poorer towns.

The discrepancy eventually led to the McCleary lawsuit, which forced lawmakers to figure out a better system for funding education.

What they came up with is a levy swap, which limits the amount school districts can collect at the local level, while increasing the amount provided by the state.

Curiously, the state does not consider technology programs part of the basic education package, so it allows school districts to run separate technology levies.

The Richland School District began the first phase of its Chromebook initiative this year when it handed out laptops to middle school students. To make sure the initiative continues, Richland school officials are asking voters to approve a separate technology levy at 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

Richland School Board President Rick Jansons said running two levies helps keep the technology program going while freeing up money in the operations levy for other needs.

Combined, the two levy requests are $2.00 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, which seems like a bargain compared to the current $3.42 levy rate per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

Even though the state is trying to do more for schools, local levies are critical. State money comes with directives on how it is to be spent, and there is no flexibility. Local levy money pays for a wide variety of programs and needs that the community deems important.

Everything from athletics (like a state champion football team), to marching band, art, special education, early learning programs, advanced classes at the high school and many other programs are all covered by the local levy.

This should be an easy “yes” for Richland voters.