Voters should approve a simple majority for school levies
August 28, 2008 · Updated 1:42 PM
Efforts are currently underway to garner support for a statewide initiative on Novembers ballot that would lower the requirement for school districts to pass Programs and Maintenance levies.
Currently, the Washington state constitution requires a 60 percent supermajority for the levies to pass. The November ballot measure, known as EHJR 4204, would eliminate the constitutional requirement for a supermajority and replace it with a simple majority (50 percent plus one) requirement for Programs and Maintenance levies to pass. School construction bonds would not be affected by the proposed ballot measure.
Because the state does not fully fund education, educators and others say the levy monies are crucial funding needed by the districts. Voters arent so sure and have a history of turning down P&M levies before passing them on the second attempt. For example, Arlington, Lakewood and Darrington all had P&M levies on the March 9, 2004 ballot and two of the three failed to get the needed 60 percent supermajority. Arlingtons levy proposal garnered 59.73 percent of the vote but failed to meet the required 60 percent. Less than two months later, on the April 27, 2004 ballot, the Arlington School Districts P&M levy proposal received 65.59 percent yes votes and was approved. Lakewoods March 9, 2004 proposal received 54.98 percent yes vote and it, too, failed. But, like Arlington, Lakewood voters approved the levy in the April 27, 2004 election with a 64.37 percent yes vote. Darrington voters, by a 61.78 percent to 38.22 percent margin, approved the P&M levy on the first attempt March 9, 2004. Marysville School Districts most recent P&M levy measure, which appeared on the Feb. 7, 2006 ballot, narrowly passed by 23 votes, receiving 60.18 percent yes votes. And the trend for levies to fail on the first attempt is not just a local problem of the 225 levies on ballots last year, only 33 percent passed on the first attempt.
On average, the P&M levy monies make up an average of approximately 17 percent of school districts budgets and help pay for teachers and staff, after-school activities, food service and transportation everything that state and federal dollars dont cover. And until the state begins to fully fund education, district officials say the P&M levy monies are critical. Having to go back to the voters a second time because the proposal failed to reach the 60 percent requirement on the first attempt costs the districts additional money, time and effort that could be better spent on other things. Had the requirement been a simple majority of 50 percent plus one, all of the levies mentioned above would have passed on the first attempt.
But voters may not be convinced that the 60 percent supermajority needs to be replaced. The Globe and The Times recently asked in their Readers Poll (which is admittedly very unscientific): Should school districts be required to get a 60 percent supermajority to get operating levies passed by the voters? In The Times, 52 percent of the respondents said Yes. Property owners would pay more, and the state would pay less, if school districts werent required to get a 60 percent supermajority for operating levies. Forty-eight percent of the respondents said, No. School district operating levies should only be required to get a 50 percent plus one simple majority like other funding measures. Results for The Globe poll showed that 33 percent of the respondents said Yes to a supermajority while 67 percent said No.
Clearly the districts need the P&M levy monies and ultimately whether its on the first or second attempt voters agree. Having a requirement for a supermajority only ends up costing the districts money (to run a second ballot measure) in the long run. Having a simple majority requirement would save districts time, money and effort, and ensure that proper funding is in place to educate our children. In November, support the simple majority.
To contact a member of The Marysville Globe/Arlington Times editorial board Kris Passey or Scott Frank e-mail email@example.com.