State superintendent talks budget, construction
BELLINGHAM — State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal spoke Tuesday about the future of education in the state, including what his office is asking for in the next state budget.
Speaking at Options High School in Bellingham, Reykdal said he was going to request the Legislature re-examine parts of House Bill 2242 when it comes to levy funding.
House Bill 2242, passed earlier this year, was the state’s attempt to comply with a state Supreme Court order to fully fund basic education by this year.
The legislation reduces how much money local school districts can collect through property taxes while enacting a statewide property tax increase to be used solely for education.
Under the new legislation, when school districts seek local levies they will be restricted to asking for $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value or $2,500 per student — whichever is less — through local property taxes.
That money can now only be used for “enrichment” purposes, which according to the state is anything on top of “basic education.”
That means districts will now be looking at their local levy dollars to fill in gaps for things such as music and art and special education.
Reykdal also spoke about how his office is seeking money from the state Legislature to address capital needs, such as those faced by the Sedro-Woolley School District.
Results from the Nov. 6 general election show voters rejecting the district’s $44.5 million bond issuance proposal, which would have been used mainly to rebuild the aging Evergreen Elementary School.
It is the second time this year voters have rejected a proposal from the district to rebuild the school.
Bonds require a supermajority — 60 percent — to pass.
Reykdal said his office is looking to get legislation passed that would reduce that to a simple majority — 50 percent plus one.
“Politically, that may be tough for them,” Reykdal said. “We’re hearing that maybe they can do something less than 60 but more than 50, that’s for them to figure out. But we will say this is a democratic issue, a simple majority kind of concept.”
He also said his office intends to keep available “state match” dollars, which ease the burden on property owners when it comes to school construction projects.
Reykdal also said his office is looking at ways to help rural school districts that, although they may be able to pass a bond proposal, lack the tax base to pay for such projects.
“We really want a rural strategy,” he said. “A separate bucket of money for rural communities.”
Sedro-Woolley School District Superintendent Phil Brockman said those solutions would be welcome news for the district.
He said the community has always been supportive of the schools, but he couldn’t blame the community for balking at increased property taxes.
“We’re not the only ones in this position,” Brockman said. “We need help with our facilities, and I think the state can help us with that.”