Levy proves critical in climate of cutbacks

With each passing week, the state’s budgetary outlook becomes more grim. Central Kitsap School District administrators harbor no illusions about what lies ahead.

“No doubt we’ll have our funding cut at some point by the Legislature — that was even before the latest figures the governor released,” said Gary Powell, assistant superintendent for business and operations for CKSD, refering to increasingly poor state revenue forecasts. “Without this stable (levy) funding we face the possibility of further cuts.”

The financial fate of the district, it seems, rides largely on the proposed school replacement levy. Absentee ballots for the levy election were mailed to residents last week.

The proposed levy maintains the same rate — $2.83 per $1,000 of assessed property value — that the district has charged the last seven years. If it approved by 60 percent voter of the district’s voters in the March 12 election, it will run four years.

To balance the books, Central Kitsap School Board member Lee Ann Powers said, the Legislature has targeted cuts to levy equalization funds. The state normally allocates that money to districts with low property values.

If implemented, the proposed cuts could cost the Central Kitsap School District $153,000-$600,000, Powell said.

Cost of living adjustment (COLA) pay raises for school staff, approved by voters in 2000’s Initiative 732, is another likely target, according to Powell. It would require a two-thirds legislative vote to overturn the voters’ will, but school administrators nonetheless are nervous.

The COLA was extended to CKSD classified employees last year, although the Legislature allocated only funds for teacher pay raises. Powell told the school board the arrangement would be difficult to emulate in next year’s tight budget.

Powell also is concerned about rising utility costs. He estimated the district could pay $350,000 more for electricity in the 2002-2003 school year.

In a further blow, a measure that would have eliminated the supermajority requirement for school levies failed by a single vote in the state House of Representatives last week.

The state constitution requires a 60 percent supermajority for certain property tax levies. The amendment defeated recently in the House would have allowed school levies to be passed by a normal, 50-percent-plus-one majority.

District spokeswoman Jeanie Schulze said she was disappointed, but not surprised the measure died.

“We’ve had too much experience with that. Just as this year, in the past it has been blocked by one vote,” Schulze said.

Local levy dollars comprise 10.2 percent of the Central Kitsap School District budget. The money funds student actvities, transportation and teachers’ salaries, among other things.

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