Editorial urges Superintendent of Public Instruction to “rein in local levies” to preserve McCleary education equity. Fair point.

The Seattle Times editorial board urges Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal to insist school districts stick with the Legislature’s McCleary school funding fix by not overreaching on local levies. 

Instead of demanding school districts follow the state Legislature’s McCleary deal on school financing, Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal has quietly rubber stamped a proposed levy request from the state’s largest school district that breaks with the intent of the new law.

When asked to explain why he failed to rein in Seattle Public Schools’ upcoming operations-levy request, which seeks roughly twice what the law allows, Reykdal says it’s not his role to tell the state’s 295 school districts how much in local taxes they can seek from voters.

The concern raised in the editorial is legitimate. We wrote earlier about the likelihood that this year’s round of collective bargaining agreements could trigger another education funding crisis. Reporting last spring indicated educators would attempt to have Olympia solve the problem by boosting – again – state funding. At the time, Reykdal sounded sympathetic, Legislative leaders, though, were not.

After the hefty boosts in funding to satisfy the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision, lawmakers are likely to be skeptical.

Chris Reykdal, Washington’s state schools chief, told The Times last week that he would push for flexibility on the levy lids because he believed it would harm district budgets. But legislators indicated a future bailout is unlikely.

Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island said last week that the Legislature shouldn’t be micromanaging local negotiations. “It’s their responsibility to have stable budgets,” she said.

To the extent that local levies supplement state funding for teacher compensation, another round of lawsuits can be anticipated. That’s the issue we raised previously, noting the number of double-digit settlements

The Times editorial gives Reykdal’s perspective on the limitations to his authority.

Reykdal says he made sure Washington’s school districts knew they would be limited in what local levy dollars they can collect, starting in 2019. But he says he doesn’t have the legal authority to stop Seattle from asking voters to pass an oversized levy. School districts can legally ask voters to approve any size of levy they want, he says, but usually as a hedge against inflation. 

And contend that Seattle’s action threatens the McCleary fix, which we believe has already been put at risk by the salary agreements.

The McCleary deal raised state property taxes to cover the full cost of basic education. And in return, the Legislature expects school districts like Seattle to lower their local taxes.

If passed, the Seattle levy threatens to break the McCleary tax pact. The school district’s apparent message to the state: We should be able to tax our citizens as much as we want, if the voters are willing. To heck with statewide education equity.

The editorial concludes,

[Reykdal’s] job is to ensure the districts are only raising money for enhancements, and he should advocate that they stay within the new levy limits. Otherwise, it would appear, he is part of the campaign to kill the McCleary deal before Washington gives it a chance to work.

That’s pretty harsh. We don’t judge whether that’s his job or not. But somebody needs to be watching what’s happening with local levies. If not, the state will again find itself back in court. Does anyone really want that?