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Issaquah School District lowers levy ask after community backlash

Four-year levy request lowered from maximum amount to two-year levy

After community backlash over its proposed 2018 levy, the Issaquah School Board has lowered its ask for this coming February’s Educational and Operations Levy.

The original ask for the four-year levy, approved at the Oct. 11 board meeting, was the maximum amount possible, $1.58 per $1,000 of assessed value in 2019 or $47.25 million. By 2022, this would have gone up to $1.65 per $1,000 or $58 million.

At a special meeting on Nov. 29, the board approved a lower, two-year levy of $1.13 in 2019 or $36.3 million, and $1.33 in 2020 or $44.9 million.

After the board approved the original levy request in October, parents, community members and legislators who worked on the McCleary decision in the Legislature asked the board to rethink its decision.

Fifth Legislative District Sen. Mark Mullet (D-Issaquah), whose children all go to Issaquah schools, said in October that he felt hurt that after working so hard to get Issaquah a $58 million increase in funding from the Legislature — more than nearly every other district in the state received, he noted — the district would act as though it could not count on the state money.

Mullet pointed out that the state increase would raise people’s state taxes by 90 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, and said that to even out the hit to taxpayers’ wallets, 90 cents should be cut from local levies.

Between the Oct. 11 board meeting and now, the district met with community members to discuss how to come to a compromise.

At the Nov. 29 meeting, residents came out to thank the board for giving a longer look at the levy situation.

“I appreciate you guys taking the time to come back and listen to people’s concerns, rework it and find common ground,” Issaquah School District parent Allison Merriweather said.

“I think it’s refreshing to see the board … be so open and truly listen to the community,” Jody Mull added.

Jim Berry, who had previously spoken against the original levy amount, said that he supported the revision but asked that the board “not commit to raising the whole $45 million the second year” if it didn’t have a specific list of expenses on which it would like to spend the extra funds.

Superintendent Ron Thiele told the board he was “really proud” of the directors for “listening to the community” and revisiting the levy. He also acknowledged “the work of the legislators to help us get to this place.”

“I do support this resolution and I do believe it will provide adequate resources for us to maintain our current programming and potentially expand on some of our programming, so I think this is an exciting opportunity,” he said.

School Board President Lisa Callan said that the levy is “the amount of money necessary to … keep us whole [plus] additional funds that would allow us to add programs.”

“We’re trying to find that perfect balance … to make sure we’re serving every single child,” she said. She added that the agreed-upon number “is a spot that is very reasonable from all perspectives.”

Thiele said that the levy will fund an increase in “counseling support and mental health support for our students,” improvements to the teacher mentoring program, the Early Learning program, an increase in academic support and an increase in staff for equity and family engagement, and will help offset the general costs incurred by inflation and a growing school district.

Director Marnie Maraldo acknowledged the community that has continuously passed levies and bonds over the years, including a $535 million bond in April 2016.

“I have to be thankful to a community who has helped us offset those shortages by the state for so many years and that we’ve been able to do wonderful things in the Issaquah School District because of the continued support of our community,” Maraldo stated.

Director Harlan Gallinger was not present for the meeting.

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