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Olympia tax referendum passes, but doesn’t mean higher overall tax rate

Olympia High School entrance
Eric Stock

Voters chose to approve two tax referendums in the Olympia school district Tuesday that will help fund renovations of its aging high school swimming pool and cut into the district’s education fund deficit.

The first vote, question one, was about Olympia’s O&M (Operations and Maintenance) fund. About 66% of voters said “yes.” The second question, asking for an increase in the education fund tax rate, passed by a similar margin: 64%.

District superintendent Laura O’Donnell said the initial reaction to the votes was one of joy.

“We’re thrilled and very appreciative for the support of our community and our stakeholders,” O’Donnell told WGLT on Wednesday. “We were, again, ecstatic last night with the results and know that this is a way to stabilize our finances for the district and will provide additional opportunities for our kids.”

Leading up to the vote, O’Donnell explained she and her colleagues were unsure of what to expect. She said they heard positive feedback, but noted it’s difficult to reach all voters in a community.

O’Donnell said the wording on the ballot added to the concerns, specifically its usage of the word “increase.” While the referendums were about tax rate hikes, there are also rates that will go down. Tort, retirement and Social Security funds will decrease. Overall, the tax rate will remain the same.

Regarding the O&M increase, O’Donnell said the high school swimming pool will be the first project addressed with the additional funds. She couldn’t give any information on future projects, but she said the pool project will not be the sole beneficiary of the rate increase.

The Olympia school district is now closer to getting out of its education fund deficit as well. O’Donnell explained what that will look like.

“In terms of the education fund, that’s the fund we’ve been deficit spending in, in the district, for over a decade. So what this will allow us to do is when our working cash bonds that we have been taking out, when those are paid off and roll off at the end of this calendar year, we will no longer have to take out additional bonds to make payroll and to operate,” said O’Donnell.

“So starting next year we’ll be able to, hopefully, pay our teachers the way that they need to be paid, make sure our salaries are more competitive and not rely on bonds to supplement our district revenue.”

As the district prepares to take on additional funding to O&M and the education fund, O’Donnell took a moment to reflect on the election cycle. For some of her senior students, it was the first time they got to cast a vote.

She said that’s a special thing.

“It was also exciting to see some of our seniors that could vote for the first time getting really engaged in this whole process, as a result of it really meaning something to them and that there was something really on the ballot that they felt strongly about,” said O’Donnell.

“It’s been a great experience, the last couple of months, and kind of going through this experience and seeing this through some of our kids, those kids that could actually vote, it was really pretty cool.”

Jack Podlesnik was a reporter and announcer at WGLT. He joined the station in 2021.