By Stuart Jenner.
It is never fun to dig into data and find something different than what has been presented publicly. But that is the situation as I write this story about the November 8, 2022, Highline School Bond.
The News: the amount per thousand has been updated on the Highline District website: it is no longer $3.86 per thousand, it is $4.40. In other words, the rate is not projected to drop even if the bond passes.
To put this in dollar figures:
2022: $4.40 per thousand times a $700,000 assessed value house in 2022 = $3,080 in local school taxes.
2023: $4.40 per thousand times an $805,000 assessed value house in 2022 = $3,542 in local school taxes.
This works out to an increase of $462.
I used $805,000 because it is a 15% increase from $700,000 and 15% is the lowest increase I’ve heard of from talking with friends about the increase in 2023 assessed values compared to their 2022 assessed values.
If the new total was the $3.86 stated in the voter pamphlet, then the tax on the $805,000 property would be $3,107. This would be an increase of $27 and the district claim would be essentially true that the amount paid was flat.
Where do we find $3.86?
There are at least three places that specifically mention a drop from $4.40 to $3.86 “even if the bond passes.”
- One is the explanatory statement in the voter pamphlet, signed by a person from the district finance office.
Here is a screenshot from the website:
- Second is the postcard mailer from Yes for Highline, received on October 26.
3. A third was the slides used in the presentation about the bond at Tyee on Sept 15, which I attended and wrote about.
The impact of keeping the rate the same: if your assessed value has increased, your local school taxes are going up to increase by the same percentage. Note: local school taxes are only a portion of your total tax bill, please see examples of school taxes below.
I contacted the Highline District on October 25 and received a response in a very timely manner. Thank you school district. The district’s explanation is that they got new data “when King County updated its projections for property values in our area.” They then realized the rate per thousand would need to stay the same in 2023 as it is in 2022. The full statement is below.
But, they obviously neglected to inform Yes Highline. Did they inform the superintendent or the directors? One wonders. Dr. Duran and School Board Member Joe Van did not mention it in the meeting at Highline High School on October 11th (part of Dr. Duran’s listening tour) that the amount on their website had been updated five days earlier. It also appears that there were zero announcements at the other three Listening Sessions on Oct 6, 10, or 17 (virtual). There are two remaining sessions on Nov 1st and 3rd.
I know several people whose assessed values for 2022 to 2023 are set to increase by 15 percent or more. Selling prices have gone up dramatically over the past few years, and assessed value follows. I can’t imagine anyone’s assessments dropping or flat.
In presentations about the bond, and on the website, there was no mention that the assessed value figure from King County could change. But after the meeting on Sept 15 at Tyee High School.
I emailed the district twice asking how we could have a bond pass at 66 cents per thousand AND have a drop of 54 cents per thousand. I did not hear back. Only an email on October 25 with a request for comments by 9 pm (at which time I planned on submitting this story), resulted in a response.
Here is one of the confusing facts about bonds and levies, compared to some other taxes. If the total assessed value goes up, then everyone’s share stays the same IF the amount of the tax is fixed. School bonds, such as the proposed $518 million on November 8, and the current school levy are indeed fixed. (though we can’t know the actual cost of interest on $518 million until the bonds are issued).
This has been a hard article to write. Some people I’m close to asked me not to write this, and it is oh so much easier to just go with the flow and stay silent. I was very involved in bond and levy campaigns for Highline Citizens for Schools, the predecessor for Yes for Highline, in the 2000s and part of the 2010s. We had an immense mess to clean up because of some past mistakes the district had made about bonds. I hope clarifying what’s going on will prevent that type of ill will, bitterness, and bond/levy failure in the future.
Here is the complete statement from the Highline district as received at 6:19 pm on October 25, 2022:
“The change in the tax rate from $3.86 to $4.40 occurred when King County updated its projections for property values in our area. Whether this projection proves true is immaterial: Voters approve an amount, not a tax rate. If home values rise, when we sell the bonds we can adjust the rate down in proportion to the increase in home values. Our goal is to keep tax rates stable. We can stage the bond sales to achieve that goal. While there will be some variation among properties, the average homeowner can expect to pay about the same dollar amount for Highline school taxes in 2023 as they did in 2022.”
Thank you for reading, we hope this information helps to inform your voting decisions.