State Superintendent Randy Dorn's letter to Attorney General Bob Ferguson. The letter is much more in the weeds than the press release below. Dorn ends the letter saying (partial):
In the meantime, many school districts have already begun the process of planning future levies.
Without clarity on this question, school districts cannot adequately plan how they intend to deliver - or pay for - basic education services.
Given the longstanding - and ongoing - legal uncertainly regarding school districts' authority to use local levy funding to pay district personnel for basic education services, I believe it is essential that your response to this request be expedited.
Nearly 40 years ago, the state Supreme Court ruled that the state’s education funding system relied too much on local levies. That reliance, the Court said, was unconstitutional.
Nearly four years ago, the Court reaffirmed that opinion in McCleary v. Washington.
And yet, since then, I’ve heard few ideas about reforming the levy system.
With that in mind, I’ve asked Attorney General Bob Ferguson today to issue a formal opinion answering the following question:
Do school district board members have the authority to use local levies to pay compensation to district employees for basic education services?
The fact is that, every year, school districts levy local taxpayers to pay for administrative, support staff, and teacher salaries. To give one example: In Bethel the state pays an average of $60,000 for each administrative staff. But the district pays an average of $111,600.
Where does the $51,600 difference come from? Local levies.
The problem isn’t just with administrators. For certificated staff, the difference is $10,000; for classified, it’s $12,700.
That’s per employee.
And while the numbers are different for each of our state’s 295 districts, most must use local levies to pay for salaries.
I’m asking my question because the Supreme Court was not asked to address this issue directly in McCleary. The Court has ruled that the state must fully fund basic education, but they have not addressed the other side of the equation: Can local districts use levies to make up for what the state isn’t providing? I believe the answer is no. Levies are for enrichment, and can be funded by local taxpayers.
Basic education is a state responsibility. Districts don’t have the authority to use local levies to make up what the state chooses not to fund.
I hope Attorney General Ferguson can provide an answer before the holidays so that the Legislature can act accordingly, and so that districts can have clarity as they prepare future budgets and future levies. I hope the Attorney General agrees.