With the 2021 general election fading further in the rear-view mirror, Mercer Island residents now have a pair of 2022 school levy renewals on their voting docket in the Feb. 8 special election.
King County Elections (KCE) is slated to mail ballots on Jan. 19 to Islanders that will include the Mercer Island School District’s replacement Educational Programs and Operations Levy (Proposition No. 1) and replacement Capital Projects and Technology Levy (Proposition No. 2). Both levy renewals will need a simple majority to pass.
According to the KCE website, passage of the four-year Educational Programs and Operations Levy would replace an expiring levy and allow the levy of $12 million in property taxes for the school district to collect each year from 2023-2026. The district’s general expenses would include special education, nurses, safety and security, employee costs (including salaries and the seven-period day), technology systems operation, transportation costs, maintenance of facilities and more.
“Mercer Islanders have a long tradition of supporting our students and keeping our schools strong. This renewal levy provides funding for critical programs not funded by the state under ‘basic education,’” reads a statement, in part, submitted to KCE by Kathy Moffett McDonald, Kim Thunen and Sarah Smith of Citizens for Mercer Island Public Schools (CMIPS).
The trio noted that the funds comprise 17% of the district’s annual budget, and added that rates are calculated at the state-determined amount of $2,742 per enrolled student. They said that this is not a new tax nor an expected increase in residents’ taxes.
On the flipside, Jeff Heckathorn of The School Data Project said on the KCE site, in part: “In 2018, the McCleary Decision was promised to be a levy swap. Instead, state school property taxes increased dramatically and local school taxes never went away and are again spiraling out of control. The district complains that this levy fills the gap left from state legislators. The legislators are correct in saying no to the district. Local voters should do the same.”
In approving the six-year Capital Projects and Technology Levy, KCE noted that would also replace an expiring levy and raises a range of $7.7 million to $8.4 million in property taxes within the school district for collection each year from 2023-2028.
Moffett McDonald, Thunen and Smith stated, in part, on the KCE site, that this is also not a new tax and the renewal benefits all Islanders: “Renovations and improvements will be made to school roofs, building infrastructure, classrooms, athletic fields, playgrounds, and other maintenance requirements. School safety and security will be enhanced and maintained. This levy renewal provides students and staff computer equipment, training and access to online textbooks.”
Heckathorn discussed why he opposes this levy renewal on the KCE site: “The state will never be able to fulfill its constitutional obligation of fully-funding schools so long as local districts are allowed to spend more than the ample provision the state provides. Until that changes, citizens need to reject these local levies like the ones before you today.”
The CMIPS members said that more than 70% of Mercer Island voters supported previous levies, and that 99% of school districts pass similar levies.
According to the Mercer Island School District, residents haven’t rejected any levies or renewals in the past, but they rejected a bond to make building improvements in 2012.
A 24-hour ballot drop box on Mercer Island will open on Jan. 20 and close at 8 p.m. on Feb. 8. The box is located at the Mercer Island Community & Event Center, 8236 SE 24th St.
For more information on the levy renewals and full pro and con statements, visit the King County Elections site at https://tinyurl.com/4j5yxpbs. To attend a public presentation regarding the levy renewals at 7 p.m. on Jan. 26 over Zoom, pre-register at https://www.yesmischools.org/.