Showdown this afternoon on funding school switch to 2-tier schedule (UPDATED)

UPDATED: see below

This afternoon the City Council plans to decide whether to divert $2.3 million of surplus funds from the Families and Education Levy to cover Seattle Public Schools’ busing costs for switching from a 3-tier to a 2-tier schedule. And the debate is getting ugly.

I wrote about this last week when Council member Rob Johnson introduced and fast-tracked a bill that would divert the levy funds as well as committing the city to long-term funding of additional crossing guards at a cost of $300,000 per year. That bill, which skipped committee hearings in order to meet a June 15th deadline imposed by the school district, comes up for final vote this afternoon.

Since it is a budget-related bill, it requires 3/4 of the Council to approve it. Council members Harrell and Burgess have come out in strong opposition to it, guaranteeing that it doesn’t have the votes to pass in its current form.

This morning during the Council Briefing, Johnson said that he would be  offering an amendment to his bill, which would strip out the funding for the crossing guards and focus the ordinance solely on the $2.3 million for the switch to the 2-tier schedule. He claimed that this was in response to his colleagues’ concerns that they would rather deal with a long-term budget commitment as part of the fall budget process. But Council President Harrell pointed out that it would also have the effect of making it no longer a budget-related bill and removing the 3/4 vote requirement — creating a path for it to pass this afternoon. Harrell made clear that we was not accusing Johnson of offering the amendment for that purpose (and Johnson denied he was doing so) but voiced unhappiness — bordering on anger — over the net effect if the amendment were to pass.

Johnson’s amendment may have another problem: it changes the bill substantially enough to make the title no longer accurate. That may require re-introducing the legislation, which would add another week, at least, to the timeline for passing the bill and push it past the June 15th deadline.

Burgess has circulated a memo laying out his opposition to redirecting the levy funds, which quotes extensively from the Families and Education Levy itself as it was put in front of voters in 2011. But Burgess also offered an alternative path to funding the schedule switch: redirecting transportation funds, rather than levy funds. Since the money would go to pay for school buses, he felt that would be a more appropriate use of funds if the Council saw this as a priority. He and Harrell are circulating draft language of a proviso that would accomplish that — though it’s also doubtful whether that can get passed this week without some significant legislative sleight-of-hand.

We’ll see how this plays out at 2:00pm.   You can watch this morning’s debate here.

UPDATE: A spokesperson for the City Council tells me that Johnson’s bill will be held without a vote this afternoon, and that Burgess and Harrell are working on alternative legislation — presumably based on their notion of using transportation funds. They are working on scheduling an additional Full Council meeting on Wednesday to take up the matter again.

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