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Seattle Public Schools To Hold Community Meetings About Operations And Capital Levies

Kyle Stokes
A class at Rainier Beach High School, which students say is overdue for renovations by the district

The Seattle school district is holding community meetings to get input on two tax levies that will be on the ballot next February, but there’s concern that voters are fed up with higher property taxes.

King County property taxes this year are increasing an average of 17 percent. That’s mostly because of a hike approved by state lawmakers last year for K-12 education.

Lawmakers also approved more money this year for teacher salaries in an effort to satisfy the Washington state Supreme Court’s order in the McCleary school finance lawsuit.

But Seattle Public Schools finance chief JoLynn Berge said even with that investment, the state still hasn’t fully funded schools.

“We still have class sizes of 28 to 1 for grades four and five and 29 for high school and middle school kids that’s funded by the state,” she said. “They know they haven’t done the rest of those things yet, but there was a lot of fatigue regarding McCleary as well.”

Berge said the district will have to rely on local levy dollars to pay for things like special education and services for English language learners.

“Without our levy, which would generate $135 million, we would end up having to have significant cuts,” Berge said. “That’s pretty much every district’s reality, but it’s certainly Seattle’s reality.”

She said the size of the levy will be up to the school board. But it’s capped at a maximum of about $135 million because of a limit set by the state.

The district also will ask voters to approve a capital levy to pay for school repairs and upgrades. Students at Rainier Beach High School have been pushing to have their school renovated. The school board is also considering building a new high school downtown.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.