Two Problems with the Levy Swap and Three Solutions
Problem 1: A part of the McCleary ‘fix’ was the ‘levy swap’. The state is using property taxes to pay for education across the state and has limited how much a school district can collect from property taxes through voter approved levies. In areas like Vancouver, where the voters are very supportive of our schools, the local school district is now getting less of that property tax money while taxpayers are paying the same (or in some instances even more).
Problem 2: While some of that property tax money is coming back to Vancouver Public Schools it is not comparable to what it would have been before the levy swap. While the overall operating budget for Vancouver Public Schools is larger than ever, it is not as large as was projected nor comparable to what we are used to.
Solution 1: Get the state legislature to address this issue and offer a short term fix during the 2020 legislative session. The bad news is that the next biennial budget session isn’t until 2021, which feels like a long way off to get a longer term solution for this issue.
Solution 2: Ask the voters to approve another levy. This would definitely increase the operating budget for our district. The problem with this is the increased the tax burden on our community. With a lot of questions and conversations about affordable housing, seniors being able to age in place, and fixing our homelessness problem asking to raise the cost of housing is tough and asking voters to increase their property taxes is going to be difficult. What the current board is proposing would be an increase of approximately $350 annually for the ‘average’ home in the district, and I know for some of our families that is a lot of money.
Solution 3: Realign our budget to match what the state is giving us while meeting the needs of our students. This would mean having conversations and honest involvement with our community. This would mean changing assumptions of how things are done in the district. This would mean looking for creative solutions and being critical of the budget. And it would definitely mean making tough decisions.
The real answer to these problems is going to be a mix of all three solutions and it isn’t going to be an easy fix. I know I’m ready to get to work, to have conversations, to ask tough questions and to make hard choices.