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As property taxes rise for many, voters asked to OK local levies, bonds for schools

KENT, Wash. —  You have until  8 p.m. Tuesday to return your ballot for the February special election. The vast majority of school districts have tax measures for voters to consider.

​In fact, there are 212 levies across the state and 24 bond measures in all.

Property taxes will be used to foot the bill for these local measures to pay for education.

And how much more you pay in property taxes will depend  on where you live.

On Monday, supporters of two levies on the ballot for the Kent schools held up signs outside Kent Meridian High School.

With tens of millions of local dollars at stake and a district already operating in the red, the levies are a big deal.

Kent mom Dee Klem estimates she will pay nearly $30 more a month in overall property taxes in 2019 if the levies pass.

But she's also adding an estimated 15% increase in property taxes that takes effect this year for homeowners in Kent because of the state’s plan to pump billions more into education.

When the Legislature passed the measure in 2017, they raised property taxes for many homeowners. The state will take the money and spread it across the state with the goal of equalizing the system. The goal is to allow school districts not to rely on local dollars to pay for basic education.

“If that’s a couple of hundred dollars more a year for my family, I am completely willing to pitch that in,” said Klem.

For a son who has big aspirations.

“He wants to be an astrophysicist and aeronautical engineer,” Klem said.

If the levies don’t pass, programs for gifted students like Klem’s son are at risk. But so is technology, sports, security and music, supporters say.

“There is no question the state is finally stepping up for districts like Kent, promising billions more to fully fund public education."

The Legislature's passage of the tax hike last year was prompted by a state Supreme Court decision. The McCleary decision said the state was failing to fully fund public education.

Moving forward, local school districts will no longer be allowed to use local levy dollars to pay for teacher salaries -- those will come from the state-mandated property tax increases.

But as it stands now, there are still gaps in the funding and not enough clarification on how state dollars will be used.

So in Kent and many other districts, levies are still paying for basic operations. Things like keeping nurses employed.

Here in Kent, local levies will pay for 20% of the district’s operations.

“The state considers four nurses to be adequate for the Kent School District, which I think has 28,000 students,” Klem said.

It’s a conversation going on across the state with the special election on Tuesday.

With the state’s plan to pump money into schools, some in the Lake Washington School District have been vocally against the levies and a bond.

“It’s really expensive, taxes have gone way up,” Redmond resident Susan Wilkins said.

Wilkins and others have been posting tax-rejection signs all over town.

There is no organized opposition movement in Kent but supporters are still nervous.

“They have always passed the bonds and levies for our kids (in the past), I am hoping that trend continues,” Kent Education Association President Christine Padilla said.