More NEW Taxes?  No!  Just CONTINUED Support for Bellingham Schools

Tom Dohman seeks to clarify Propositions 2020-9 and 2020-10 for the Bellingham School District 501.

Tom Dohman seeks to clarify Propositions 2020-9 and 2020-10 for the Bellingham School District 501.

• Topics: Whatcom County, Bellingham,

As stated in the language on the ballot recently received in the mail, two levies, Proposition 2020-9 and Proposition 2020-10, are designed to replace expiring Bellingham School District 501 (BSD) levies that were approved four years ago. They were instituted to provide support to the district’s operations and technology capital projects that are not funded, or fully funded, by the State of Washington.

It is important to note that the Official Local Voters’ Pamphlet received by all owners of taxable property within the boundaries of the BSD was printed BEFORE the latest property assessment values were completed for Bellingham. The result is that the Levy Tax Rate stated in the pamphlet was an estimate and is now not quite accurate. The estimate is a higher number than the actual figure because property values within Bellingham city limits were recently updated, and turned out to be higher than estimated by the pamphlet’s writers. Given this increase in assessed property values, Washington law requires the levy rates be lowered to achieve the same funding level target.

I wanted to better understand what was changing in terms of “renewing” the expiring school levies. My research into this topic with the Whatcom County Assessor’s Office and the Bellingham School District offices led to the following clarifications. The levy rates have now been corrected—i.e. lowered—as follows:

Proposition 2020-9 (the Operations Levy) would begin at $1.71 per $1,000 assessed value, instead of the pamphlet’s estimate of $1.85. Proposition 2020-10 (the Technology Levy) would begin at $0.92 per $1,000 assessed value as opposed to the estimated $1.00. These latest revised figures were relayed to me over the phone and you can confirm them with the Bellingham School District office. The new levy rates - if approved in the Special Election on February 11, 2020 - would take effect beginning in 2021.

If one uses the current median assessed property valuation of $375,000 for a residence in Bellingham, the levy increases that will be applicable in 2021 will amount to an additional $131 per year over what that median property owner was paying for the previously approved levies which will expire in 2020. Specifically, the new school levy figure for that median $375,000 home would increase from $855 in 2020 to $986 in 2021 – an increase of approximately 15.3%. Perhaps in this context, the requested increase might appear more reasonable, given that the cumulative rate of inflation from 2015 to 2019 was ~7.9% and the rate of inflation over the next 4 years—the life of the levies being voted on—is unknown.

I have no connection to the field of education or the Bellingham School District. I simply wanted to provide some clarity to the decision-making process for anyone interested in the details. The point of conducting this assessment was primarily to assure myself, and my fellow residents of Bellingham, that it is more accurate to look at this Special Election and its school levy request NOT as entirely NEW taxes, but rather as a continuation of past support. They are simply replacing funding in an attempt to keep up with the current needs for quality education within our schools and to perhaps get slightly ahead of the rate of inflation. I believe these investments will continue to pay dividends in building the foundation of a quality education for our local students.

About Tom Dohman

Citizen Journalist • Member since Mar 23, 2018

Tom Dohman is a retired food industry professional - schooled as a microbiologist - who spent three decades working for various food companies, in the disciplines of food product development, [...]

Comments by Readers

Ryan M. Ferris

Feb 03, 2020

All Whatcom Count school districts  (and therefore the entire county or 146K voters ) have elections this February 11.  As of this Monday morning (2/3/2020), 19K plus ballots have been returned to Whatcom County Elections. (See ).  As of last Friday evening (1/31/2020), statewide turnout is about 13% (See   You can check your registration or ballot status at


Alex McLean

Feb 04, 2020

Thanks for the explanation and clarifications, Tom, but I’m still voting “no.”

It won’t matter—nothing does with this School District and the budget requests will sail through with huge public support.

But, sorry, I’m done giving blanket handouts to Bellingham Public Schools when they have nothing even remotely resembling an environmental policy to guide their massive footprint and impacts in this community.

Their existing policy, apparently, is to simply make Bellingham residents work their asses off to provide some viable patina of “green” or “sustainable” thinking in some of their programmming and activities. But, when it comes to how they stomp around with their $105 million High Schools, or their flagrantly idiotic and abusive buses parked right atop Whatcom Creek, they just pump out another eight-page glossy flyer, at taxpayer’s expense, to explain how glorious and righteous they are in every single thing they do. They have no environmental policy. It shows in everything they touch.

Their students are skipping class and marching in the streets because they are totally flipped out about the future they are facing due to the climate emergency.

I’m going to do my duty to those kids, in the only functional way that the cloistered and tone-deaf BPS administration and Board might react to, by rejecting every damn ballot with their name on it until they pull their heads out of the 1950’s and start respecting the environmental values of this community in some meaningful, actionable, ways.


Dianne Foster

Feb 07, 2020

I totally agree with Alex.   As I wrote in this week’s “Weekly”,    for the first time in my 73 years,  I will vote No on a levy.     The school board is simply a rubber stamp for highly paid administrators who will not consider community input on their plans,  and they need a swift kick in the behind to let them know we care.    My daughter got a great education in B’ham schools and the Highly Capable Learners  program,  and they have a wonderful new kitchen that provides local organic foods.   (I would never let her eat there in the old days).    But the board refuses to think for themselves on the bus barn issue,  re-placing it on Whatcom Creek when they needed to rebuild,   and promoting diesel fumes in densely populated York neighborhood.     Per PubMed studies,   these fumes cause future health risks to pregnant women whose fetuses will be affected for generations.    Autism is one of the primary results,  yet they give lip service to “safety” for all children in the Bellingham Promise.      Diesel fumes are not safe,   and need to be moved,  or even better,  replaced with electric buses.


Garrett O’Brien

Feb 10, 2020

It seems that there is a confluence of factors that could make it increasingly difficult for taxpayers to continue supporting School District bonds and levies, or at least start to question priorities and spending contained within them.

The scope of services provided by our schools continues to expand and carry commensurate operational expenses, which perhaps will promote a broader discussion about the roles our schools should play and which programs demonstrate increased educational attainment. Is the School District’s decision to purchase land for over 2 million dollars to construct a new office building in the Barkley District going to provide better educational outcomes for our students?

Another factor is the general disconnect from the City of Bellingham’s comprehensive plan, goals, and policies. A persistent lack of housing supply limits the shared tax base the School District and City government rely on and creates headwinds for the funding of public education, as well as future Greenways and Housing levies.

The City of Bellingham and Bellingham School District need a coordinated growth strategy that assesses the impacts of additional housing units that will be constructed near existing schools as infill occurs, as well as ensuring transportation strategies and climate goals align. 


Michael Plummer

Feb 10, 2020

For similar reasons to Alex I am voting NO. I was a part of the process in trying to convince the Bellingham School District to do the right thing and relocate the Bus Barn. I was shocked by the attitudes imbedded within the school admin and the school in regard to protecting whatcom creek and the overall environment. Until our school district makes a solid commitment to becoming partners in preserving and protecting our local environment as well as providing a near future plan to move the bus barn I will not vote in support for another school levy.


Ellen Baker-Glacier

Feb 11, 2020

That’s fascinating.   When I took time to look closely at our Mt. Baker School district levy measure and the RCW’s that cap per-student spending (in the spirit of the McCleary case), the number of students enrolled numbers were higher than “actual” —not just by a few,  but by hundreds.  This particular levy also has built-in increases, making the sudent-count matter even more out of whack.   Go figure .  (Seriously - it’s prudent to get out your calculator where it comes to this kind of thing.)


Tom Dohman

Feb 11, 2020

Well, the election is ending tonight so we’re not likely to influence many other voters at this point.  I do appreciate the points of view presenting a different perspective on reasons to support or not support these school levies.

The focus of my article was largely to inform voters of the mechanics of the levies, past history and the potential economic impact if the levies were both to pass.  It’s clear from several responses that there is much passion and strong disappointment with the attitudes and responses by the Bellingham School District’s leaders to citizen input on environmental issues.  I would merely point out that these 2 current levies and its expenditures are fairly well focused on specific areas within the BSD that are directed primarily at teachers and students.  While the case can be made that the BSD administration may benefit tangentially from the levies’ proceeds, its main recipients are not the responsible parties who have caused your disapprobation with the school district.  Many voters may want to continue to support these more innocent stakeholders while pushing in other ways for change in district policies.

As someone who has worked in a science-related field and has some familairity with the science of toxicology, I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the “casual causal” statement about diesel fumes leading directly to birth defects and autism.  While I am no fan of diesel fumes, motor vehicle exhaust and many other traffic related air pollutants - and am sympathetic & supportive of the school bus barn relocation efforts - it is disconcerting when people use early scientific studies to sew extreme fears in the public.  Many such scientific studies are suggestive and demontrate associations of various health effects based on specific criteria but causation is indeed much more difficult to demonstrate.

Common sense dictates that we should certainly try to minimize exposure to high concentrations of all of these nasty fossil fuel combustion pollutants.  I and many others would fully support changes that would accomplish that; electric buses would be great - once the full life-cycle cost analyses are known & understood.  The prevalence of electric vehicles and hybrids in Bellingham seems to suggest a belief & willingness to pay more for technologies that at least reduce some of those million point sources of such pollution.  Hope for the Future!


Ellen Baker-Glacier

Feb 11, 2020

Posting anything anywhere  is “informational” at best - true.   It’s election Tuesday and most ballots have probably dropped.  I didn’t look into this particular levy looking for opposition grist - I just cared about the scale and affordability of it.  I did a little research to understand the “basis,” and I’ve been  dismayed by what I found.  There’s a lot of poverty in the district; pennies can and do matter.  I find John Lennon’s song “Truth” (just give me some truth) positive, not negative. 

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