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Toughest problem on November’s ballot for Seattle voters? Maybe the new school levy

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King County Elections says that early ballot returns are on pace for a big turnout for the November 6th election — it received 60,000 ballots in the mail Wednesday morning, more than twice what it expected. That likely means at least a few Seattle voters have already sorted out one of the stickiest problems on this year’s ballot — what to do about the new school levy.

If approved, Seattle’s proposed Families and Education Levy would expand services for the city’s school-aged children. And in this case, the term school aged would mean people from preschool to college. The project would fund a laundry list of services within those grade levels, but some education activists are pushing back on the proposal.

Mayor Jenny Durkan has championed the levy as building “a school to opportunity pipeline.” “The increase comes from us doing the two things that we know are vital. Increasing pre-school so that more kids come to school ready to learn. And giving kids that opportunity to go to college,” the mayor said in April as she rolled out the proposal.

It will not come cheaply. The levy, proposed by the city, not the school district, would raise about $619 million over seven years. In 2019, it would mean a property tax rate of up to 36.5 cents per thousand dollars of assessed value. A citywide median home of $665,000 would pay $242 in taxes.

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The levy would replace two existing levies. Levy supporters note that the median homeowner would see a net increase of about $9 a month.

The levy would help expand the city’s preschool program. Currently, the program provides preschool for 1,500 students, which would grow to 2,500. That portion of the levy would cost about $341 million.

“I know it’s a huge priority for working families to be able to have access to high quality early learning,” said City Council member Teresa Mosqueda as the council voted to place the measure on the ballot.

The city would spend about $188 million on family support, after school and summer programs in K-12 schools. Also in K-12, about $67 million would be used to expand the number of health centers from 25 schools to 29.

These programs, council members said, will help to close the opportunity gap between children from families in different economic and racial demographics.

In the 2017-18 school year, the expiring levy funded programs at 41 schools across Seattle, though none on Capitol Hill. The closest schools to the neighborhood to get funding from the levy were Bailey Gatzert elementary, Washington middle and Madrona K-8. The funding is based on an application process, so it’s not possible to say which, if any, neighborhood schools might get funding under the new levy.

Finally, about $40 million would go to fund Durkan’s Seattle Promise program, which would pay for tuition for public high school graduates to attend a Seattle Community College.

In announcing the program earlier this year, Durkan said funding these first two years of college would help young Seattleites get a leg up in applying for jobs of the future, and might help some then transition to a four-year college. Her comments were echoed by the council when they approved the legislation.

School Board member Zachary DeWolf said in an email he supports the measure. He pointed to some specifics that it will help with, such as the state only funding nine school nurses, and 34 counselors for all of Seattle’s 104 schools. Funding generated by this levy can help to fill that gap, said DeWolf, who represents Capitol Hill and the surrounding area on the board.

The current levy, he said, has been invaluable.

“This extra support has improved our graduation rates, has helped us close the opportunity gap, helped improve attendance, and has meant more caring adults who are working alongside our district to support our students in reaching their full potential,” he wrote.

He was also supportive of the preschool and community college portions of the levy. DeWolf echoed comments of city council members that the levy will help younger children come better prepared to kindergarten, and help high school graduates prepare for the future.

Opponents have poked a number of holes in the proposal. Melissa Westbrook, an education blogger who runs the site Save Seattle Schools, came out in opposition to the proposal for a number of reasons.

Some were more pragmatic. She notes that the school district will have a levy of its own on the February ballot, and she fears that voters may, finally, reach a point of fatigue on increased taxes. While it would be unfortunate if the city levy failed, Westbrook says it would be “catastrophic” if the school district levies fail in February.

DeWolf said he’s also heard concerns about so called “levy fatigue.” He stressed that the city levy in November would add about $9 per month to the median home’s tax bill, an amount he thinks city voters will be willing to shoulder.

“What I know is that my neighbors across the city truly understand that our public schools are not adequately funded,” he wrote. “We need any collaboration or support we can get!”

Westbrook raises issues about the expansion of the pre-K program. While saying she is generally supportive of pre-k programs, she wonders if Seattle is going about it the right way. She notes that Seattle will be spending more per student than Boston, which she calls the gold standard for pre-k programs. Furthermore she notes Boston leverages state and federal funds which Seattle does not.

She’s also concerned about the family support workers. Again, she’s very supportive of the workers and the work they do, but says the city has been unclear if those workers will continue to work in the schools, or if they will be moved off-site.

She also notes that levy monies could potentially go to charter schools (meaning less funding for Seattle Public Schools), which have been controversial in this state, and locally.

“Recall that in 2012 city of Seattle itself voted in — in a firm majority –- against charter schools,” she wrote.

For more details about this and other issues on the ballot, and for instructions about what to do if your ballot is lost or damaged, visit King County elections.

The date to register to vote online has passed. Register in person by October 29th at the King County elections Seattle annex.

Election Day is November 6th. Most voters either have or will soon receive their ballots in the mail. They must be postmarked or turned into a drop box by November 6th. There is a drop box in front of Seattle Central College, and more around the county.

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34 thoughts on “Toughest problem on November’s ballot for Seattle voters? Maybe the new school levy

  1. $9 a month x 2-3 levies a year adds up to a lot. We just massively increased property taxes to fund schools. To say they are not adequately funded is ridiculous.

    Vote No.

  2. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the city reject a levy in the past decade. But my property taxes have increased almost 50% the past few years. It has to stop somewhere.

    • But my property taxes have increased almost 50% the past few years.

      Considering the median value of homes in Seattle have doubled in the past 5 years, I’d say only a 50% increase in property taxes is an amazing deal!

  3. I voted no for the first time in over 40 years of school levies. As the article states, this is a massive expansion of the existing system, not a support for teacher pay, smaller class size, or construction.

    Let’s let the McCleary decision property tax increases settle in and see how well our schools perform before we decide we need even more funding.

  4. Given that 50% ish of the Seattle voters rent property and are thus not directly connected to the pain of ever increasing property tax it’s time to look at how to share the burden…

    • @nope: people who vote “no” on property tax tend to be the same people who vote “no” on income taxes. What’s your suggestion?

    • Given that 50% ish of the Seattle voters rent property and are thus not directly connected to the pain of ever increasing property tax it’s time to look at how to share the burden…

      But they are still connected to the “pain”, be it directly or indirectly, as any landlord will pass on the property tax increase to their renters.

      Your argument is tired one that seems to pop up every time there’s a levy and is nothing more than a strawman fallacy. People, both renters and owners, want a properly funded City, including education.

  5. Agreed. I voted no as well. Let the city and school district spend the money we’ve already approved for them before asking for more.

  6. How to share the burden? Are landlords just paying the rising property taxes without raising rent? What a nice landlord. It’s not a very strong argument that only property owners take on the burden of property taxes. We all feel it, whether we own or not. Just us owners are actually better off because as others have said, while taxes have gone up a steady 50% over the years, property values have far outpaced this….. Sounds like the owners, yet again, get the better end of the deal, and that is because of the ever increasing equity in this great city.

  7. I may have purchased a home in 2003 but that doesn’t mean my circumstances have changed so much in the last 15 years that I can easily afford my more than doubled property taxes.

    Yes, we will do great when we sell but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to pay the (now) more than $10k/yr property tax bill on a single income.

    I don’t want to move my family.

    • Where are you renting that you are only paying less than $1,000 per month for 600 square feet!?!? I WANT IN! I’ve been watching micro studios (<250 square feet) climb past $1,200. ;-)

  8. For me too, this was the first time I voted No on a school levy. I feel utterly left alone by the county while my property tax increase outperforms that of my income. I would actually like to see a boycott of any legislation that increases the property tax until our politicians start working on a State income tax. Let’s not be bullied by the conservatives in Eastern Washington, or maybe bully them back by threatening to secede from the State of Washington and keep out money away from them (just joking, but action is sorely needed).

  9. Oh, I’m so sad for all of you poor people who own homes and have the value of your homes rise to astronomical heights. Voting no instead of helping students shows your explicit greed! Stop being repugnant!

  10. So pm, by shaming those of us who own homes, you’re suggesting that we should all simply vote “yes” for every school levy. If I had this blind willingness to spend money, I would have never been able to save enough money for a downpayment, then through years of varying income still manage to make those payments. My property taxes have doubled in the last 4 years. As I approach retirement, well I won’t approach retirement. If I want to remain in my home, I will need to keep working indefinitely. Doubling property taxes on a fixed income will mean that I will need to move somewhere far away from Seattle. I have always voted for schools. My children were educated in Seattle’s public schools. And I believe that it is all of our responsibility to support public schools, regardless of whether our kids are in those schools or not. We need educated people. But I also believe that it is our responsibility to demand accountability in our elected officials. It’s easy to address problems by spending other people’s money. I believe that they need to do a better job of communicating why this levy is necessary now. Because there will be another levy in the Spring. Don’t assume that I’m greedy. Maybe I’m repugnant, though. That’s subjective. And the median home price in Seattle is now $820,000 not the $665,000 claimed by Durkan.

  11. That’s not the way property taxes are calculated. They work from how much money they need to collect, to how much the levy needs to be to collect it. Just because houses are worth 50% more doesn’t mean it now costs 50% more to fund the schools. So it doesn’t follow that houses being worth 50% more should necessarily mean taxes are 50% higher, unless the costs went up.

  12. Some people who don’t own homes seem to think houses increasing in values gives homeowners more money to spend, like the house paying you dividends. Our salaries aren’t going up any faster than yours, and we can’t afford the ever-higher taxes any more than you could if your bills went up 50% over a couple of years. Yeah, you make money when you eventually can’t afford the taxes and have to sell– because you can’t afford to stay in your own home anymore.

  13. Just to note, the school district has two levies coming in Feb 2019, coming in at just under -gulp – $2B. I’m surprised Director DeWolf didn’t mention that. So, with the new state property tax for education already on our bill, then the radically expanded Families&Education levy (expanded in both cost and scope and it gives me pause to wonder why the Department of Education needs to get so large when the City’s designated responsibilities like housing, homelessness and transportation are nowhere near fixed). And then two (2) SPS renewal levies – is that justifiable? I’m not sure but I’m certainly not going to tell anyone they need to say yes -even for kids – without examining every levy carefully.

    The pre-k program will nearly triple in cost but only doubled the number of seats. And growth can only come if there is space. Again, why DeWolf didn’t point out that Seattle Schools has given all the (free) space it can. If the City has to pay for space, where will it be and who pays?

    And, there is no specific wording to protect the K-12 dollars for SPS programs so the programs touted could be diluted or end if the City starts giving dollars to charter schools.

    I think -a lot – about property taxes and who gets to live in this city. It’s very easy to say “Just $9 a month more” when perhaps you are not low-income or on a fixed income.

    Voters need clarity in a levy, not confusion. Please vote NO and let’s see the City retool this flawed levy.

    Lastly, no programs would stop if the levy fails. The current levy has a $12M underspend and the pre-k levy has a $1M underspend.

  14. The first link I shared above explains why the League of Women Voters of Seattle-King County
    Urges “No” Vote on Proposition 1.

  15. I voted No because this levy, like so much of Seattle city government by do-gooders, has morphed into a grab bag of goodies I cannot afford. WE cannot afford. A levy which began as a way for the city to help by funding family support workers in the schools has mushroomed into a pre-k though community college support program which to me, is beyond the city’s tax payers scope of responsibility.

  16. you realize that the income from my job doesn’t increase at the same rate i am being taxed, right? and that i don’t get an income check from my home each month if it rises in value.

    also, if my home decreases in value, i eat that. so, i get you are sore that you can’t buy right now (sorry, not my fault the market is how it is) but to imply that all homeowners are wealthy elite is just plan dumb.

    maybe own a home yourself and you’ll see the impact a levy every voting cycle has on your expenses.

  17. Wait wait wait. 341 mil for 1000 more kids? That’s roughly 341k per kid. Are these people getting 1:1 tutoring that includes going to the market and getting fresh Copper River smoked salmon @ $40/lb?

    I mean, in all honestly if I were a kid and I got that I’d vote yes. But this is nonsense.

  18. LOL… and we feel so bad for you renters who vote for every tax increase on property, then cry that you ***need and deserve**** rent control when the landlord ups your rent to cover the cost…

    I want to stay in my house until I am physically incapable of doing so, not sell it – I get *nothing* from property value increases except for a bigger tax bill…

  19. Is Zach saying that this will pay for nurses? Remember this is a City of Seattle levy. The Seattle School District will be proposing two levies in February. The operations portion of that levy will ask for funds that bridges the gap between what the state funds and what Seattle students need and that continues programs to provide support for students in need, which is helping SPS close the opportunity gap. School nurses should be in that levy.

    • Joanna, you know you can just call or email me with clarification questions. I was trying to set context that the state has not fully funded education.

  20. The reality only kicks in when you head toward your late 40s – big tech don’t want 50+, kids are still eating money, property tax doubles every four years, interest rates keep going up.

  21. “I actually like income tax – atleast it won’t kick me out of my house when I retire and am on low income :)”

    I absolutely want an income tax. It’s far more fair for everybody. There are a lot of people in Seattle making tons of money, and housing only takes up so much of your budget, regardless of where you fall in that spectrum. After that a lot of people get somewhat of a free ride taxes-wise. A statewide income tax won’t kill jobs growth (much), as long as we don’t make taxes worse than where we’re poaching jobs from (like the Bay Area, for example).

  22. I am stunned by our joke of a senior citizen property tax exemption. It is clear we are not wanted here. We cannot retire,
    we cannot fix up our houses, and we cannot afford our utility bills.
    The income limit to qualify for a paltry exemption is 40K and has not been adjusted in years, Portland has 60K limit. One cannot qualify for a deferral if one still has a mortgage,
    It is an outrage. Having equity does not equate to more disposable income.