Kent School Board puts replacement levy on Feb. 8 ballot

Voters in the Kent School District will be asked to approve a two-year replacement educational program and operations levy on the Feb. 8 ballot that will bring in about $76.2 million per year in 2023 and 2024.

The Kent School Board unanimously approved a resolution on Nov. 10 to send the measure to voters to maintain funding for programs supported by the levy that are not fully funded by the state. This levy would replace the levy approved by voters in 2020 that expires in December 2022.

Interim Superintendent Israel Vela said at the board meeting that he is confident that this amount of funding would allow the district to maintain its current programs while remaining fiscally responsible and sensitive to the overall tax rate.

“When voters invest in our students and schools, they are investing in our community,” Vela said. “All students should be given the same opportunities regardless of their abilities, backgrounds, or family income. This continued funding will ensure all students in Kent School District have the same opportunities to learn, grow and succeed.”

If approved, a property owner would pay about $1.88 per $1,000 assessed value in 2023 and $1.86 per $1,000 assessed value in 2024. That would cost the owner of a $600,000 home about $1,128 per year.

The levy amounts of $76.2 million per year are a fixed dollar amount that represents the maximum that may be raised through the levy, if approved.

“We are not asking for more money but support for sustaining the excellent programs we have going,” said Ben Rarick, district executive director of budget and finance, in an Oct. 27 presentation to the board.

Rarick said the levy funds about 150 teachers who are not covered under the state funding. He said that helps maintain lower class sizes.

The levy also pays for 17 nurses not supported by state funding. State funding covers four nurses.

Career readiness programs are another area funded by the local levy, Rarick said. The state doesn’t fund specialized programs with smaller classes.

“We are well positioned in the local economy with huge tech and aviation employers that are looking for young professionals coming in for employment,” Rarick said. “Part of our mission is to prepare students, and two of our top 10 taxpayers into our system are Boeing and Blue Origin. They are in our community.”

School security personnel and technology also is mainly funded from the levy. The district has 12 positions in school safety, state funding covers only 4.5 positions, Rarick said.

Levy money also helps fund athletic and art programs in the district as Associated Student Body fees cover only a small amount of the costs.

“We hear from community members who like to see our students perform and compete whether in a sporting event or a nonathletic activity,” Rarick said.

Local funding provides about 16% of the district’s annual budget, according to the district website. The state provides about 78% and the federal government 5% with about 1% from a variety of fees, grants and donations.

Voters approved the two-year renewal levy by 55% to 45% in 2020. The maximum amount that can be collected in 2021 is $69 million. The maximum amount that can be collected in 2022 is $76.2 million.

Voters in 2018 approved the replacement and operations levy with 50.53% in favor.

“This is the most fundamental way to express support for a school system,” Rarick said. “In 2018 it barely passed. Two years later it passed at 55%. I hope this levy, with a robust campaign, we can exceed that level by even more. I hope we can go for 60%.”

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Article Source: Kent Reporter