After some basic addition at the Spokane County Elections Office last week, each school district in the greater Spokane Valley area increased its margin on this month’s special election ballot to renew levy funding.
Central Valley, East Valley, Freeman and West Valley school districts all cleared the simple-majority requirement – any percentage over 50 – following the first returns in the Feb. 14 vote.
By that point, the elections office had tabulated 111,471 ballots countywide from a total of 13 school districts.
Approximately 15,000 ballots were part of the latest count on Feb. 16, according to Mike McLaughlin of the Spokane County Elections Office. The final tabulation – consisting of around 200 ballots – will take place on Feb. 27 with the election being certified on Feb. 28.
Locally, the narrowest votes took place in East Valley and Freeman. On election day, the EVSD replacement levy was passing by 51 percent, or a slim margin of 231 votes (3,040 to 2,809). The most recent tally had the percentage improving to 53 percent.
While the proportion represents a decrease from the 57.9 percent earned by the district in the last levy election from 2009, the overall ballots cast in support of the funding actually increased from 3,398 to 3,592.
In Freeman, a mere 91 votes meant the difference on election day (801 to 710), although the numbers improved for the district last week, vaulting the percentage from 53 to 54.4. The overall ballot count stood at 960 to 805 last Thursday.
Freeman also featured the best voter turnout in the special election at 57 percent. Central Valley was second at 53.2 percent, followed by West Valley with 52.3 percent and East Valley at 48.7 percent.
Throughout Spokane County, voter participation was only 48.4 percent.
Replacement levies generally run on the ballot once every three years and typically account for between 20 to 25 percent of a district’s overall budget and cover costs connected to sports, music, teacher salaries, counseling, textbooks, utilities, special education, transportation and more. Funds are generated through a tax on assessed property value.
After the first review of ballots, only the Great Northern School District, Rosalia, Mead and District 81 had more substantial winning margins than Central Valley at 58.4 percent. CVSD had improved on that with the latest count, moving to 59.3 percent (14,264 to 9,788).
The ballot in West Valley included both a replacement maintenance and operations levy and a replacement technology levy. As of Feb. 16, both had improved their margins with the M&O levy going from 55.6 to 56.3 percent and the technology levy gaining ground from 54.1 to 55 percent.
In addition to the encouraging reports from the elections office, area school districts received some good news from Olympia last week. State economists projected a $96 million boon to state revenues in the 2011-13 biennium, a ray of sunlight in a financial forecast that has been mostly dreary in recent years.
All but around 20 school districts in Washington draw from a state levy equalization fund that supplements money generated by taxpayers within their respective districts. This year, a number of area districts – including Central Valley and East Valley – calculated their levy rates based on the assumption of no state equalization dollars. West Valley projected half of the previous amount from the state while Freeman’s rate was based on full receipt of equalization funds.
If state money does materialize – as it did during the last levy rotation from 2009 – districts will “roll back” the tax rate in order to compensate.
Sen. Mike Padden of Spokane Valley’s 4th Legislative District, said he “would be surprised” if school districts did not receive their share of funding from Olympia.
“Most people feel it will be preserved,” Padden said. “We’ve not had too many hearings on the budget yet, but I’ve indicated to our school districts that it is a priority to maintain levy equalization.”
Padden said votes on the state budget will likely occur in the last week of February at the earliest. The latest legislative session is scheduled to wrap up on March 8.