PORT ORCHARD — When the Washington State Legislature finally passed its two-year state budget and Gov. Jay Inslee signed it June 30, there were expressions of relief, joy, apprehension and regret around the state.
The mixed emotions came from South Kitsap public officials intricately impacted by a big piece of the state budget — the funding component for public education.
Sen. Jan Angel, 26th Legislative District Republican, a veteran of the majority coalition caucus, said she was satisfied the Legislature’s new funding formula will meet the requirements of the state Supreme Court’s McCleary case to adequately fund education.
“I think that the plan that is in place right now is a good one,” Angel, of Port Orchard, said. “It levels that playing field” for the majority of the state’s school districts.
The 26th Legislative District legislator bristled at the suggestion the funding hike was created through a property-tax hike. “I think there’s a real misconception out there,” she said.
“The levies are paid as part of the property tax, so this is more or less just a redistribution. Levies are going to be less. They’re going to be moved over to property taxes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be more than what they’re already paying.”
That’s the case with the three South Kitsap-area school district property owners. “It’s not going to be more, it’s going to be less,” Angel said.
“From my perspective, voting for the budget meant that it didn’t hurt any of our school districts with the levy reforms. In fact, it makes it better each year. In some cases, a lot better depending on the school district.”
Angel said some district property owners, particularly those in King County, will have to pay higher property taxes. “Yes, their property taxes are going to go up, but they’re in a different boat than we are. When you’re trying to level that playing field, school districts like Bremerton and South Kitsap, which haven’t been able to pass a lot of levies, would actually benefit more than would schools over in Seattle, with the higher property values there already.
“So, it’s kind of an apples and oranges comparison. But for the 26th District, it’s better.”
State Republicans and Democrats worked marathon days (and nights) to formulate a compromise budget during the Legislature’s third special session. The legislators agreed to raise the state property tax to $2.70 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, which is a jump of 81 cents from the existing level. They will backfill the funding requirement with a nearly half-billion-dollar revenue stream from a new tax on online purchases, and elimination of a sales-tax exemption on bottled water and extracted fuels.
State reserves of nearly $900 million will be tapped, as will $254 million from the state’s Public Works Assistance Account.
After the dust settled, taxpayers found the budget includes $1.8 billion for public schools to satisfy the McCleary case.
Understandably, South Kitsap School District Interim Superintendent Karst Brandsma was pleased, if not elated, with the new funding mechanism. The education budget will boost dollars per student rates each year through the years 2020-21 by a total of 33 percent.
“I guess I’m excited by the fact that it increases funding for education,” Brandsma said. “I’m hopeful that as this thing unfolds, the Legislature fine-tunes it enough to iron out some of the inequities that may exist. It won’t be fully understood until it’s rolled out.”
Brandsma said his school district staff will be quickly getting up to speed on the funding plan. “We plan on spending time doing that. We have several opportunities to meet with some state folks via telephone conference to sift through all the details.
“The exciting thing about it is that it takes care of an inequity that started some 40 years ago. It changes the way districts will be funded, so getting into the details is going to be important.
While the new funding increases per-pupil rates for class size, the superintendent said it also presents a challenge to the district. “If you have more class size, you need more room. And room is at a premium in our district, so that might not be something we can tap into,” Brandsma said.
Increased public transportation funding by the state Legislature for school districts has been promised, but changes to the education funding formula could adversely impact South Kitsap because of its geographical makeup, he noted.
“We don’t have a lot of sidewalks that allow us to have kids walk to school. We end up spending local levy dollars to make sure our kids get as safely as possible to school. If we lose some flexibility with our levy dollars, it will be interesting to see how that plays out.”
South Kitsap-area school districts expect to see per-pupil increases from the new budget. Today, South Kitsap School District receives $10,588 per student at its enrollment level. In 2018-19, that funding rate rises to $12,560. And in 2019-20, it climbs to $13,286, then to $13,556 in 2020-21.
Bremerton currently receives $11,166 in state money per pupil. That amount will rise to $13,249 in 2018-19. Peninsula schools currently receive $10,527. In 2018-19, that rises to $12,093.
With combined state and local school funding, South Kitsap will jump from its current total of $103,348,141 to $125,504,589 in 2018-19.
“It was such an amazing feat to come up with something that balanced statewide because of every district being so unique,” Angel said.
But voting for the overall budget deal meant that Angel had to swallow some elements she opposed. One included the creation of a task force to study the development of a state bank. “I don’t agree with that philosophy because I believe that’s why you have your community banks and credit unions — those are the folks already out there doing this in the private sector.”
She also was a no vote for the paid family leave act. “I’m sure I’ll get criticized for that. It always comes back to you that you don’t care about families. Well, I’ve been a working mother, a single mother, I’ve been a widow, so I’ve worked for a long time, and I get that. I remember worrying about the kids getting sick and those kinds of things.
“(The legislation) is going to sound really good, but what the employees don’t realize is that they’re going to be paying a good percentage of that. It’s going to be another divot out of their paycheck.”
Angel also said she was disturbed that the bill never was given a public hearing. “I didn’t even know this was coming. A lot of us got a surprise because we didn’t know anything about it.”