On Monday August 12, 2019 the Battle Ground School Board held a regularly scheduled meeting. As part of that meeting they reviewed the proposed 2019/20 budget. They allowed public questions. The Board of Directors adopted the budget as presented. What they didn’t tell people is that the approval of the budget included an increase in the Levy from $1.50/$1000 of assessed value to $2.50/$1000 effective January 1, 2020. There was no notice of intent to increase the levy. There was no vote to approve the increase. It was all part of the budget approval. This was the only budget meeting. In past years they held 2 public sessions. Normally at Laurin and Yacolt or Amboy to take questions and hear testimony. This year they skipped that. I spoke with one of the district leadership who said people rarely attend so they weren’t doing it this year.
On July 24th and 25th the Board held a special work session previously known as a Board Retreat. Apparently some parts of it were open to the public (no one attended – normally retreats are closed). On day 2 of that special work session there were 3 items:
A. Operations Budget Discussion – Mark Ross
B. Bond/Capital Levy – Mark Ross
If you didn’t see the budget presentation at the school board meeting you can now. The district did NOT originally share the PowerPoint. We had to ask them to post it on the district website under Board Docs and under the meeting agenda notes. Most people have difficulty navigating the menu structure. So, rather than trying to explain how to find it we got it and here it is: 19.20 Budget Hearing Tell me where, in that presentation, they said they were going to increase the levy and that by voting to approve the budget the levy would increase.
- The increase of $1/$1000 of assessed value is going to be used, among other things, to make capital improvements on some campuses. This will include fencing, a cafeteria and other work. Apparently since the capital bond failed 3x the Board believed that they still needed money and they believe the levy money can be used to do things the voters said no to. So the public vote of NO meant what?
- The bigger issue is the way this was handled. The Battle Ground School Board has had a checkered history around “trust” issues. There have been documented examples of past boards misleading and even lying to the public. The Board, over the past 5 years, has said they will correct that image and will be “transparent”. They have failed. If they were transparent they would have notified the public they were considering increasing the levy and gotten feedback. At a minimum they would have had a specific vote as to whether to raise the levy so there would have been a record of how each Director voted. The only “vote” was from those Directors who attended the meeting and whether they voted yes or no on the budget…since only the Directors and District Leadership knew what was secretly going on in the background…hidden from the public. They didn’t even have all Board members vote since some were absent.
As part of preparing information for this expose I reached out to the County Assessors office as well as the School Board. Following are the exchanges with both entities so you see exactly what was asked and what they said.
County Assessor’s Office
I would appreciate if you could provide comment on the following questions regarding the Battle Ground School Boards decision to increase the levy from $1.50/$1000 to $2.50/$1000.1) Did the battle ground school district/school board consult with your office regarding increasing the levy rate? If yes when? If yes what guidance did your office share with them?
I met with the District Finance Managers in June. The guidance I gave them is the levy limit had increased to $2.50 but they still were also limited by the amount voters had approved in their individual levies. Similar to 2019 if the amount they request leads to a tax rate that exceeds the new $2.50/$1000 levy limit, I will be opposing the levy limit on their districts.
2) What is your understanding of the process for a board/district to increase the levy from the $1.50 (which took effect in Jan of 2019)? Can they increase by any amount up to the allowed max of $2.50?
3) Is there any legal requirement that the district/board notify the public? Is there any requirement that the district/board seek approval from the taxpayers?
The amount to be collected must be done in a public budget meeting. The board is limited to the amount per year approved by voters in the last levy election. The amount requested must reflect what is in the budget. If it looks like they may be below the $1.50/$1000 and levy equalization dollars are at risk the school board would need to approve a larger amount in a December budget hearing if they have additional capacity from their voter approved levy.
4) Is there a mechanism for the taxpayers to challenge the increase and if so what/how that you are aware of?
The voters have approved it so there isn’t a mechanism to challenge it as long as they meet their legal requirements for an open budget meeting.
5) When does the increase take effect?
The increase will appear in the 2020 taxes.
6) Is it correct to interpret that the new $2.50/$1000 is not capped? That is, if property values continue to increase the rate applies to the increased value and thus the district could see additional increases in dollar revenue?
The caps are the lower of $2.50/$1000 of assessed value or the amount approved by voters in the last levy election. Anytime a district is at a levy limit an increase in assessed value will lead to an increase in the taxes and the potential revenue a district may collect as long as that revenue is below the amount approved by voters in the last levy election.
7) Is there any projection for the average increase in property values for the 2020 tax year that people could use to estimate the cost in additional taxes due to the increase in the levy?
Most property values increased in the 5 to 7% range. The majority have their assessment notices so they can do the math at $2.50 for Battle Ground levy and about $2.90 for state school times the thousands of dollars their assessed value was in the 2019 assessment.
- If you have any other information that is relevant and important for taxpayers in the Battle Ground School District to be aware of can you please share it?
The tax rate for State a Schools before the ratio is applied will be going back up to the $2.70/$1000 from the one year dip to $2.40/$1000.
It is my understanding that the School Board has chosen to increase the “levy” from $1.50/$1000 of assessed value to $2.50/$1000. I would appreciate your prompt responses to the following questions:
1) When did the vote for the increase take place?
a) Was the vote a separate agenda item or was it part of the 2019/2020 budget approval?
b) Was there a workshop or motion or other activity(s) where the increase was discussed among the board and/or district leadership? (If yes please specify – if there are notes or a record please supply)
The vote took place with the passage of the 2019-20 budget. There was a public workshop June 24th on the 2019-20 budget outlook and a public board retreat presentation July 25th regarding the budget, 4-year budget forecast and potential levy amounts.
2) Please explain the rationale for the increase
See budget hearing PowerPoint and press release. Even with 91 positions eliminated, continued budget deficits were present and continued in the 4-year budget forecast. This included the use of fund balance (district savings).
An increased levy limit provides financial sustainability, gradual implementation of middle school sports program, the ability to invest in needed capital facilities projects (secured fencing at select campuses and cafeteria/gymnasium conversion at Pleasant Valley campus to name a few), meets staff salary increases not funded by the state’s prototypical model for future years, covers SEBB health insurance costs increases for unfunded staff, funds future curriculum adoptions, which are a local responsibility, and supplements unfunded special education costs.
3) Please explain the legal authority/basis that allows the Board to impose the increase
The district has an existing, four-year local levy voted in February 2017 prior to the levy changes under HB 2242. Collection began calendar year 2018 and ends December 2021. The HB also notes that new levies to be collected calendar year 2020 going before the public needed pre-ballot approval from OSPI. The OSPI approval process is for new levies beginning after legislation. The requirement the district must hold to for the levy voted in 2017 that began to be collected in 2018 is the accounting subfund requirements (matching revenues collected to expenses) and the dollar limit per $1,000 cap requirements.
The below came from a white paper from legal representation:
2020 Tax Collections: Common Scenarios under ESSB 5313 Rollback to $2.50. Many districts have outstanding voter-approved EPO levy amounts that would result in levy rates in excess of $2.50 per $1,000AV. For these districts, the EPO levy will be reduced to the amount that results in a rate of $2.50 per $1,000AV or $2,500 per pupil, whichever is less. This is true even if the district’s ballot proposition listed a lower estimated levy rate (e.g., $1.50 per $1,000AV), because the county assessor determines the actual levy rate “regardless of the estimate” in the EPO levy proposition. RCW 84.52.054. Once the new EPO levy amount is included in the district’s budget and certified to the county, no further action by the district’s board of directors (or voters) is required.
4) When will the tax increase take effect?
January 1, 2020
5) How long will the tax increase be in effect?
a) How much additional tax revenue does the district project to raise by year for each year the levy is in effect?
The cap is $2.50 per $1,000 of assessed value. See OSPI excel attached (select Battle Ground) on estimates on levy at $2.50 with their estimates on AV. Calendar year’s 2020 and 2021 still show a Rollback of levy as the total levy amount under the $2.50 cap is less than the voter approved levy.
On a fiscal year basis it’s about $8-10 Million per year looking out two-three years but depends on AV growth as well.
6) Is there a legal requirement to notify the public of the increase and allow for a comment period?
No, as the voter approved amount was greater than the levy amount capped at $2.50. As mentioned, the district conducted a public budget workshop, a public board retreat, and a budget hearing.
7) Did the district or Board notify the public of the intent to raise the levy and if so when and how?
a) If not why wasn’t the public notified?
Public budget workshop in June, public July board retreat and public budget hearing were conducted.
8) Is the levy amount to be collected fixed or will it be $2.50/$1000 of assessed value and thus rise each year if property values continue to increase?
My understanding is $2.50/$1,000 of assessed value. Here is a look at rates the past few years and an estimate of 2020.
|History of BGPS tax rates
|Local BGPS levy rate
|Local BGPS bond rate*
|Total local BGPS levy & bond rate
|State schools levy rate
|Combined state and local levy rate
9) Did the Board/District contact the Clark County Assessors Office or other agency(s) or seek legal input regarding raising the levy amount and if so who and when?
Yes, the district along with other Clark County districts met with the Clark County Assessors Office and Educational Services District 112 (ESD) in the spring after WA Legislation on local levies was finalized.
10) Was there Board/District leadership discussion regarding increasing the levy? If yes please provide information on timing and circumstances (public or private or executive). The intent is to understand what happened, the process, timings, etc.
See answers number #6 and #7
11) Did the Board take into account the fact that the one year 1x reduction in state school property taxes expires and goes back up? The County Assessor say that will = $.40/$1000 of assessed value. (That means that property owner will see their taxes go up $1.40/$1000).
Yes, see chart in answer #8
12) What is the impact of the last round of negotiated salary/benefit increases for the 2019/20; 2020/21 and 2021/22 school years on the budget? That is, how much more money will be spent due to new contracts? Goal: Understand how more money the district needs to pay the contract increases.
It’s difficult to quantify the delta related to contract increases alone as we don’t code/account for personnel salaries by negotiation increases. I have an idea what the 14.99% increase last year looks like but you have to remember we reduced our certificated staff by 70.
A certificated staff average salary (base, TRI, PLD and classroom funds) is $80,000 while we are funded from the state $71,295.
For a classified staff the average salary is $57,318, but the state funds us at $50,583, and we are unfunded at 29% based on the prototypical model.
A major impact to our budget this year is the cost of the mandated state-pooled benefits for employees, called SEBB (School Employees Benefit Board), and the health care coverage/policy changes/funding impacts that has on the district.
- The impact on taxpayers is significant. The $1/$1000 increase means that a $300,000 home will see an increase of $300 per year. A $500,000 home = $500 and so forth.
- The State school tax goes back up $.30/$1000 so that $300,000 home goes up $90 and the $500,000 home goes up $150
- The wage increases along with more state mandates dramatically impacted the costs and thus the money woes
- Student enrollment continues to fall which means the district gets less money from the state and to meet increasing expenses needs more money from the property owners
- We are right back in the same situation prior to McCleary…except…we are spending a lot more money with no changes or improvements
- Battle Ground carries more personnel than the State pays for and has for years. That comes out of local taxpayers pockets. How many more people are employed? By a factor of 1-2x more extra people
- There is not one shred of evidence or proof that more money solves any problem or improves outcomes…not one!
- People on fixed incomes are going to get the extra money from where? Social Security? Nope. A bigger pension? Nope. They are S.O.L.
The school board hid their plans because (opinion) they didn’t want the public flack. They wanted to fund the budget as proposed…period. Is NOT telling the public and hiding the levy increase in the budget approval honest and “transparent”? Is using levy money for capital projects taxpayers said no to 3x following the will of the people or is it thumbing their nose and telling the public your vote means nothing?
Whether you agree with the need for the increase or not is your personal call.
Whether the way the increase was handled gives you pause and says you can’t trust the Board members is also your call.
What will you do about it? Will you say anything or just roll over? By the way…only Tina Lambert voted no. If you think the Board members who voted yes and hid the information from you should be dealt with speak up. Let Tina know you appreciate her standing up for you.