|1/23/2013 1:36:00 PM|
Cascade School District M&O levy set for February ballot
Money would help to maintain school technology
You could say the owners of the Cascade School District are getting a pretty good bang for their buck. Property owners in the district are paying the lowest levy rates in the North Central Washington region, while the schools in the district are performing better academically than most schools in the state.
This in mind, the Cascade School Board has decided to place a four year Maintenance and Operations Levy on the Feb. 12 ballot. The current levy rate for the district is $1.24 per thousand dollars of assessed valuation. The next lowest is Chelan at $1.49. Nearby Cashmere is paying $4 for their M&O Levy.
"It's actually pretty amazing. One of the things I try to do, when you compare yourself with other districts, you are comparing apples and oranges," said Steve McKenna, Cascade superintendent. "If we look at Cashmere that has a levy rate of $4 per thousand, put on their bond rate and capital levy to fix their stadium, they are up to $6.37 per thousand."
Someone might argue the assessed value of home in Cashmere is slightly less than Leavenworth, McKenna said. He's heard that argument before, but he believes that may not be true, from the realtors he has asked. But perception is reality, he said.
Cashmere is actually paying less per student than Cascade. McKenna said Cascade is one of the lowest spending districts per student in the state. And the long term debt per student in the lowest at $854 per student. Compared to $10,494 at Cashmere and $2,591 at Lake Chelan.
"The challenge is when you compare where we are with a fund balance, we're also the lowest. We have to continue to improve our fiscal health with our fund balance. We do have some projects we need to work on," he said. "We've been frugal with our money. We spend the least and we get the greatest performance out of our students than any district in the area. That doesn't last forever."
The district has not painted, nor replaced carpets in a long time. Those need to be replaced at some point, he said. The rate of $1.24 in the lowest levy rate in the history of the school district. Even when you add on the 42 cents for the technology levy approved last year, it is still only $1.63 per thousand. That is still below Chelan's overall rate of $2.21, when you add on their bond rate.
Certainly a big reason why Cascade has the lowest rate is because the district is no longer paying off a bond, unlike the other districts. The debt for Icicle River Middle School was paid off last year.
"Because we don't have any bond debt, we can ask voters for this short term fix, for technology and some things on several of the buildings," he said. "Then, we could go ask voters for a bond, which would put us in the average range. Then everything is up to speed. I think it is a plan that makes improvements across the district and keeps us at an average range."
In terms of a bond, McKenna said they are not going to do anything until after the levy expires in 2015 at the earliest. Between now and then, they are going to continue to plan and get community input. The citizen's groups will continue working on the plans for the high school and the elementary schools.
The proposed levy rate is a 27 cent increase, approximately $1.48 in 2014, $1.46 in 2015, $1.45 in 2016 and $1.43 in 2017. This would generate just over $3 million dollars each year. That compares to the expiring levy, which will collect $2.4 million in 2013. The reason the levy rate declines is due to the anticipated increase in overall property values in the district.
McKenna said they favored the four year levy because it keeps the rate fairly steady over four years, and would save the district the added expense of running another levy election in two years, which typically costs around $20,000.
Levy money is to be used, 35 percent on instructional support, 20 percent on co-and-extra curricular activities, 17 percent on employee support, 16 percent on district learning improvement and 12 percent on student safety.
Student safety would pay for camera maintenance and upgrades, also placing new locks on the doors. McKenna said it used to be that all the doors locked with a key from the outside and could not be locked from the inside. The district is now in the process of changing the locks, so doors can be locked from the inside.
"Before the Sandy Hook shooting, we had been in conversations with the Sheriff about getting them back in the schools as resource officers. Obviously, that has brought up that discussion again," he said. "How do we increase safety on a very porous building? You have doors all over. That's an issue. But what can we control? What makes sense?"
There is a hope money for safety might come federal government, he said. Because of national outcry for safety in schools, there might be some federal grants available to help put officers in schools, like years ago.
Since district voters just approved a technology levy to upgrade the technology in the district, McKenna plans to use the M&O levy funds to start sustaining that technology.
"Our hope is that if we can do a good job in a sustainability plan, then we don't have to come back and ask the voters in four more years for more computers," he said. "There was a good sustainability plan in the district years ago, but as the state did cutbacks, the district could not keep up with the plan because the money wasn't there. We are going to try it again."
The 2012 Washington State School Board Achievement Index rated 2,102 in the state. The Cascade School District performed quite well. Osborn Elementary ranked in the top 3 percent of schools in Washington. IRMS ranked in the top 1 percent of schools, while Cascade High School ranked in the top 25 percent.
The tech levy in 2012 passed by a wide margin as did the previous M&O levy. This does give McKenna a great deal of confidence.
"I feel really confident. With being the lowest tax rate per thousand of any district in the area and getting the good performance we're getting from our students, I think people are getting a good value," he said. "The levy is 20 percent of our budget. It is a key piece."
A community meeting is planned for tonight at 6:30 p.m. at the Leavenworth Fire Station. This is for anyone who wants to hear more facts about the levy and to ask questions. The election is Feb. 12.
Ian Dunn can be reached at 548-5286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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