Washougal voters to decide replacement levies

Ballots for the Feb. 11 election will arrive this week

The Washougal School District will be asking voters to approve two levies on Feb. 11.

Ballots are expected to arrive in mailboxes this week.

A three-year maintenance and operations levy and technology levy will replace the current ones, which expire at the end of 2014.

Although the levies are not new, the amounts have been increased. This is in order to keep pace with increased enrollment and allow the district to expand in several areas of current focus, according to school district officials.

Levies have been set at $700,000 per year for the technology levy, and $6.3 million in 2015, $6.52 million in 2016 and $6.8 million in 2017 for the operations levy.

The maintenance and operations levy will be approximately $19.6 million over three years, with an estimated average rate of $3.31 per $1,000 of assessed value. This means the owner of a $250,000 home would pay approximately $827.50 per year. The expiring levy is $2.89 per $1,000, which translates into $722 per year.

The technology levy will be approximately $2.1 million over three years, with an estimated rate of 34 to 37 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. This means the owner of a $250,000 home would pay approximately $92.50 per year. The expiring levy is 13 cents per $1,000, which translates into approximately $32 per year.

Local levy dollars constitute more than 20 percent of the school district budget and provide funds that support student health and school safety, sports programs, extracurricular learning, performing arts opportunities, textbooks, student transportation, professional development, community education, facility maintenance, and student support programs, according to Dawn Tarzian, superintendent.

“I would encourage the Washougal citizens to review the information that will be arriving with their ballots this week,” she said. “The district has worked diligently over the last several years to keep our community informed of the many successes of our students that are a result of the hard work of our dedicated staff. The community is also aware of the district’s prudent management of state and local resources and the long term facility needs that have been addressed.”

Technology levy dollars provide tools for the classroom and the infrastructure to support it, as well as training for staff on how to use technology.

If approved, the boost in maintenance and operations levy funding would be used to increase security staff, provide all-day kindergarten at each elementary school, create additional one-on-one learning opportunities for students, increase student college readiness, train teachers and staff members to use current technology and keep class sizes down.

“The district has successfully reduced class sizes over the last three years to allow for students to receive individual attention and to nurture the development of their interests and talents,” Tarzian said.

Technology levy dollars would go toward upgraded learning tools, helping students use technology wisely, and provide professional development and technical support to staff.

Kyle Eakins is the chair of the Washougal Citizens for Better Schools Committee, an organization formed in 1988 to get out the vote and information to the voting citizens of Washougal. He has two children, a son who graduated in 2013 and a daughter who attends Washougal High School.

“We believe the school district is working to be as transparent as possible and really informing where these dollars go and how they are allocated,” he said. “For example, four years ago the levy was “flat” or no increase was requested; that was in the face of the economic disaster we were all struggling through and the amount requested was appropriate under those circumstances to the number of students in the district.”

Today, he continued, though the district is asking the voters to approve an increase, it is in context to the growing number of students.

“Essentially, we are asking the voter to approve the same number of dollars to continue doing the great job our teachers have been doing, only right sized to the larger student population,” he said. “I am pleased that Washougal educators continue to improve our student test and placement performance with budget dollars that are in the middle of schools districts regionally.”

Maintenance and operations levy rates in neighboring school districts are $3.29 per $1,000 in Camas, $4.23 in Hockinson and $3.77 in Vancouver.

“The levies comprise 20 percent of the district operational budget,” Eakins said. “We will lose vital arts, sports, college preparation and trade skills programs (if these are not approved). In addition, we will compromise the funding for safety initiatives and the teachers we need in classrooms to keep our class sizes at effective educator to student ratios.”

Current class size averages are less than 25 for kindergarten through third grade, and below 28 in fourth through 12th grade.

“We believe that the citizens of Washougal know and understand the value of strong public education,” Eakins said. “That economic viability relies on keeping a community alive and growing with strong families that have the educational competencies to keep living wage jobs. Simply put, strong schools build strong communities and strong communities build strong schools.”