Residents in the Bainbridge Island School District are voting Feb. 13 whether to raise property taxes by an average of about $19 per month to renew two educational levies.
The 2024 Enrichment and Operations Levy and Technology Levy fund programs are not covered by the state. The tech levy would fund any technology that the school may require, such as student devices and productivity software, while the E&O levy would close the gap in funding for staff and school supplies.
If passed, the levies would implement a peak combined tax rate of $1.14 per $1,000 assessed property value starting in 2025, which would be $19.14 per month more for the average BI household, or almost $230 a year. That would generate about $4 million for technology and close to $13 million annually for E&O over the next four years. The total tax rate for BISD (which includes a previously approved bond and a capital levy) would be $2,100 a year on a $1 million valuation.
“It cannot be stressed enough about how important these two levies are to the continued excellence of our island schools,” school board president Mark Emerson wrote in an editorial.
Levies and bond measures are a common strategy for school districts to accommodate growth outside of what state funding provides. The ‘24 levies are repackaged legislation from 2021, which imposed a peak tax of $1.07 per $1,000 assessed property value.
Emerson said taxes paid to the state then returned to the BISD account for 74% of the district budget, and “in no way supports all the required and needed educational programming of any school district.” According to district calculations, the E&O levy alone makes up about 16.5% of annual revenue.
While the levy package passed with substantial community support in 2021, circumstances have changed — the district is grappling with a shortfall, exacerbated by declining enrollment. Also, COVID pandemic stimulus funds are ending.
“Bainbridge has a long history of taxpayer support for our schools — so long and consistent, that it’s one of the assumptions baked into the district budget,” Mev Hoberg, former school board president, said at a public meeting last month.
She recalled that the levy election in 2021 was fraught due to pandemic-related school closures, and “people were nervous and angry” then, too. The 2021 levies still passed with 69.5% and 70% of the vote.
The levies “make a Bainbridge education so much more than basic, and they help prepare kids for the future,” Hoberg said.
If Bainbridge voters do not pass the levy package, the district will need to cut an additional $15.9 million.