WENATCHEE — The $113 million budget approved by the Wenatchee School Board Tuesday includes the additional $1.5 million in local levy revenues proposed by Superintendent Paul Gordon.
It also includes fewer teachers and staff than last year, cuts to building budgets and projections for fewer students.
The question of whether the board should access the additional funds had been debated since the Legislature lifted the levy cap in April.
Voters approved a levy in 2017 that would have cost about $2.91 for every $1,000 of assessed value. The Legislature, as part of a new education funding model, capped it at $1.50 in 2018, but this spring lifted the cap to $2.50.
By then, the district had identified $4.2 million or so in cuts to help reduce a looming budget deficit created by a combination of state funding changes, salary increases and declining enrollment.
When the cap was lifted, teachers and staff lobbied the board to use additional levy funds to stave off some of the cuts. The board hesitated to make that move, given voters also had been hit with an additional state school tax.
Gordon, who arrived on the job July 1, provided a fresh look at the issue and on Aug. 13 recommended collecting an additional $1.5 million in levy funds to help stabilize the budget and prevent further cuts this year.
At a community presentation at Wenatchee High School on the issue last week, Chelan County Assessor Deanna Walter said the combined changes in state education taxes and the proposed levy increase would mean taxpayers would be paying a rate close to the amount approved in 2017.
No members of the public spoke Tuesday during a hearing on the budget. Board members unanimously approved the levy and budget as proposed.
“I think this move is prudent,” said board member Laura Jaecks. “It brings the combined levy rate of state and local taxes to meet the voter-approved levy rate. It does not exceed that. It was important to me we only go to the threshold approved by voters in the last election.”
Board member Michele Sandberg agreed.
“This is a necessary levy, but not exorbitant,” she said. “I feel that this is a financially responsible amount. I appreciate the work that has been done to maximize our efforts, but minimize the impact on our local taxpayers.”