Wenatchee School Board will hear from the public on proposed property tax increase

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The Wenatchee School District is anticipating big budget deficits in the coming years and the superintendent is recommending a property tax increase to deal with them.

At this week’s school board meeting, Superintendent Paul Gordon proposed a 30-cent increase per thousand of assessed value.

Thanks to a bill approved by the Legislature this year, the district can raise its levy up to $1.50 per thousand without a public vote.

District Chief Financial Officer Larry Mayfield said even with staff reductions in the next few years the district is on a path toward spending all its reserves in order to keep up with rising costs.

The district also is anticipating a drop in enrollment over the next few years, though it likely will rise this year, Mayfield said.

State funding is based on enrollment numbers.

Gordon said the 30-cent increase would still result in a fiscally conservative budget.

“We believe the administration recommendation … is respectful of the precious local taxpayer resources,” Gordon said.

Board schedules public meeting

The board said before raising the district’s levy they want an opportunity to explain the budget issues to the public and take comments.

They will do so at a public meeting next Wednesday from 6 to 7 p.m. at Wenatchee High School.

The district has faced budget issues since the Legislature resolved the McCleary lawsuit by changing the state’s formula for funding education.

That included more state funding for schools through an increased property tax statewide. At the same time, the Legislature limited what local districts can collect from taxpayers.

Following the McCleary funding change, teacher unions throughout the state pressed for salary increases, some local unions actually resorting to strikes.

Last August, the Wenatchee  district agreed to increase teacher pay 11 to 12 percent. That, combined with the loss of local levy dollars, left Wenatchee in a financial bind.

This spring, the board went through a series of budget cuts that included a reduction in staff through attrition, not layoffs.

Board member Laura Jaecks said the board should meet with the public before the 30-cent increase as a way of building trust.

“On the one hand, the public elected us to take responsibility for the district and make decisions, Jaecks said. “On the other hand, since this is such a unique situation, and I think there really is little understanding on how this impacts the individual citizen and the individual taxpayer, I think it is important that the board sends the message to the community that we are being thoughtful and responsible.”