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School districts ask for funding amid hefty property tax increase

(File, Associated Press)

This Tuesday, voters in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties will be asked to choose between the cost of their own property taxes and funding local schools.

Local levies remain a critical source of money for school districts. State funding increases do not cover many district needs and programs such as special education, transportation and class-size reduction. The property-tax add-ons – generally in the form of levies — also fund music, athletics, extracurricular activities, after school programs, and summer school.

Complete list of issues on the ballot

State lawmakers are struggling with school funding while homeowners cope with soaring property tax assessments.

Some local levies up for a vote are simply a renewal of existing levies that were passed years ago. But that may not matter to a homeowner scraping by.

Funding school districts

Just a couple of weeks ago, taxpayers discovered the hard reality that is their new property tax bill. The average homeowner in King County is seeing an increase of 17 percent; Bellevue homeowners got hit with a 21.6 percent increase. For a median-valued home in Seattle ($597,000), an owner should expect to pay about $825 more than last year.

King County Assessor John Wilson told The Seattle Times that the state’s new school-funding plan is the main reason.

And it’s not just in King County. In Snohomish County, where voters are being asked to approve more than 20 school levies, homeowners were hit with a 27 percent increase in some areas.  Again, it’s mostly to cover changes in state education funding largely fueled by the Supreme Court ruling in the McCleary Case, the Daily Herald reported.

Wilson told The Times that bills are set to be mailed out Feb. 14, the day after voting day. Half is due by the end of April and the second half due by the end of October.

Relief is expected in 2019 when a state cap of local levies is supposed to keep the combined state and local tax bill for education below or at 2017 levels, the Daily reports. The levies are capped at either $1.50 per $1,000 in assessed property value or $2,500 per student.

Jeff Chamberlin, superintendent of the University Place School District, told the Tacoma News Tribune:

For many years there has been a gap between what the state funds and what schools need to be able to operate and meet the needs of kids. The state has made changes … there is no question they have made some strides to close that gap, but there is still a significant gap in what they will pay for and what citizens expect schools will provide kids, and what kids need.

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