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Judge rules for city, rejects initiative to fund smaller classes
Seattle Times staff reporter
A King County Superior Court judge rejected a school-funding initiative Wednesday, ruling that an attempt to raise millions for Seattle Public Schools through a city property-tax increase is illegal.
Initiative 87 would have directed city property-tax money to provide for smaller class sizes, all-day kindergarten and other specific programs in Seattle schools.
The city of Seattle had challenged I-87 in court, arguing that the measure imposed on its budgeting authority.
The ruling means I-87 won't be on the ballot this November, even though supporters had gathered enough signatures to place it there. An accompanying measure to raise the levy lid — Initiative 88 — is on the Sept. 19 ballot.
Supporters immediately vowed to appeal and said they still would campaign for I-88 in the hope that the state Supreme Court will overturn the ruling. Without I-87, I-88 wouldn't do much. It would authorize the City Council to raise taxes but wouldn't require it to do so.
"The mayor may see this as a victory, but I see it as a loss for Seattle kids and for the promise of lower class sizes and restoring art and music to the schools. That's what we want to do, and that's what I think the voters want to do," said Jody Granatir, a history and math teacher at Summit K-12.
Initiative 88 would authorize the City Council to raise $40 million a year in property taxes, for six years, for schools.
City Council President Nick Licata said the city supports schools but that the initiative, backed by the Seattle teachers union, would have harmed the balance of power between the City Council and the School Board. The city already supports schools by paying for some before- and after-school programs and shares community centers and athletic fields, he said.
"I think the city will be down in Olympia lobbying for the school district and lobbying our state legislators for full funding of the schools," he said. "That's absolutely critical."
Seattle School Board Vice President Cheryl Chow said the initiatives, at least in the short term, would fund important programs.
The two initiatives tried to make use of a loophole in school-funding laws. School districts are limited in the amount of money they can raise through voter-approved property taxes. But because Seattle and the school district share the same boundaries, the initiative authors believed voters could raise city taxes and then tell city leaders how to spend the money.
But city leaders balked. The mayor called the idea "absurd," and the city attorney filed a challenge in court.
Superior Court Judge Palmer Robinson's ruling for the city came after a Monday hearing.
Mayor Greg Nickels applauded her decision.
"The ruling supports what we have felt all along — that this measure is an inappropriate use of the initiative process," he said in a statement.
Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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