TSD held another Work Session on October 10th. There were three main topics (1) Filling the vacancy on the Board, (2)Revising the Superintendent evaluation process and (3) Discussion about the amount and type(s) of levies and bonds that will be on the February ballot.
I gave an overview of levies and bonds in my prior blog, so I am just going to stick with the discussion points brought up at the meeting. I am really loving these Workshops. The TSD Board and Administration talk about pressing topics, exchange ideas, assign out tasks, and makes decisions. Very informative.
CURRENT VACANCY—Khalia Davis resigned on September 25th, leaving her position vacant. Khalia is unopposed on the upcoming November ballot, but has indicated she will not accept the position if elected(which is almost a certainty) since nobody else is on the ballot. As some of you may know, Khalia has endorsed me, and I have agreed to put my name in as a write in candidate. Assuming Khalia gets the most votes, the position will remain vacant until the Board appoints a successor. The Board indicated that it will likely start interviews shortly after the election. If you are interested in applying, the announcement and application process should be outlined fairly soon. The Board suggested the public may be involved in the interview process to some degree, which would be a great change.
SUPERINTENDENT EVALUATION PROCESS—It appears as if the TSD Board is in the process of developing an evaluation for the Superintendent. I have not been involved with process in the past, but it appears there was a system used on prior occasions, with the Board hoping for some improvements. I will be candid, this seemed like much ado about nothing from my perspective. Coming from the private sector, I am used to evaluations being comprised of occasional sitdowns with employees to see how things are going. Spending hours discussing, and conducting, an evaluation is a foreign concept to me. I do not want to minimize the importance, I am just admitting this is not an area with which I am familiar or have much interest. I will leave any real discussion for others who are passionate about the topic.
BONDS AND LEVIES—As a refresher, there are 3 potential propositions TSD can put up for taxpayer consideration with the February election:(1) CONSTRUCTION BOND–to build a new school, (2) CAPITAL LEVY–to fund maintenance, technology, repairs and building improvements; and (3) EP&O LEVY–to fund gaps between what the state provides and what it actually cost to educate students.
CONSTRUCTION BOND—Superintendent Dotson started the discussion by encouraging the Board to hold off on asking for a Construction Bond. He indicated this would be a “big ask” of taxpayers, and is the least pressing of the concerns. There has been some discussion in prior meetings about possibly needing a new elementary school. Dotson said he has worked with the facilities group and there is a high level of confidence that we have sufficient capacity for the next 4 or 5 years. The Board appeared to accept Dotson’s recommendation as there was no substantive discussion about a Construction Bond.
CAPITAL PROJECTS LEVY—TSD has a list of “needs” regarding repairs, retrofitting, maintenance, etc. of facilities. The list also includes a few million dollars in technology upgrades/maintenance(chromebooks) and about $1.8MM for the preliminary planning of a new school–which Dotson indicated may not be needed for several years. The wish list is about $6.3MM per year for the next two years. Here is the chart:
TSD needs to get voter approval to fund this work. The TSD Admin pitched proposals between $5MM and $7.5MM per year, for the next two years. An “ask” of $6MM would equate to about $1 per $1000 for a taxpayer, or about $300 for a $300,000 piece of property. TSD voters have routinely approved levies of this nature in the past.
As the discussion progressed, Rita Luce and Andrea McGhee expressed reservation about tax increases being experienced throughout the county, and suggested that $.75 per $1000 might be a more appropriate ask. Kim Reykdal seemed on board with this. That would result in about $10MM being collected, with the cost on a $300,000 property being around $225 to the property owner. Melissa Beard appeared to agree, while pointing out that Mel Murray(Director of Facilities and Capital Projects) and his crew do a great job with what they have. For what its worth, I agree with Melissa. I deal with a lot of construction projects. There are many moving parts that need to be managed. Mel does a great job in leading a team that serves the citizens of Tumwater well, especially given the constraints of a pretty fixed budget.
I am pretty confident TSD will ask the citizens of to kick in about $5MM per year over the next two years as a Capital Projects Levy.
The EP&O Levy(formerly known as M&O) is the biggest decision point as far as I am concerned. TSD intends to ask for $2.50 per $1,000, which is the maximum allowed under current law. Once again, TSD voters have consistently approved the M&O(now EP&O) levies in this range. There was little discussion on this topic and everyone appeared to be in agreement. The focus of most of the discussion centered on a campaign to get the word out, and educate voters.
As noted previously, the EP&O funds have become a necessity in TSD. Failure to pass an EP&O levy during 2020 would have dire consequences and result in drastic cuts.
The Board, as we all do, clearly understands that the climate is a little different this go around. None of us knows if the bargaining issues will result in a different temperament amongst the voters. From my perspective, there are some basic budgeting priorities that also need to be addressed, chief among them the out of district transfer student policy. As a taxpayer, it would be hard for me to support a levy unless TSD changes its practice of failing to follow its own out of district transfer policy.
As I have outlined in previous blogs, I also have concerns about many of TSD’s budgeting practices. The upside, at least as far as I can tell, is that the new Superintendent seems intent on addressing those issues head on, and is willing to make some tough decisions. Further, the Board engaging in thoughtful discussion during recent Board meetings is encouraging.
As always, we welcome feedback and also encourage you to contact the TSD Board members with your thoughts.