Washougal School District to put levies before voters

Replacement operations, technology levies headed for February 2020 ballot

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Since taking over as Washougal School District’s (WSD) superintendent in July 2018, Mary Templeton has strongly advocated for the addition of a string music program. Templeton is a trained singer, her sister was a member of the Portland Youth Philharmonic and all three of her children are violin players with orchestra experience, so she believes that she’s able to speak to the performing arts’ ability to enrich peoples’ lives.

Templeton would also love to see the district implement an early-age dual-language program. As a former high-school German teacher, she is well aware of research that concludes that people have a better chance of successfully mastering a foreign tongue if they start learning when they’re young.

Those possibilities — and more — could become realities if voters approve two replacement levies in February.

WSD board directors voted to place educational programs and operations (EPO) and technology levies on the ballot for a Feb. 11, 2020, special election at their Nov. 26 meeting at the WSD administrative office.

“We’re already doing great things with the levy investment, but we have aspirations to continue those great investments and to add a few things that we think are very exciting,” Templeton said. “The levy is important for us because it provides a percentage for our ability to operate the district by providing innovative programs and excellent enrichment opportunities for kids.”

If approved, the levies would replace the current levies, which are set to expire Dec. 31, 2020. The EPO levy funds services and operations not funded by state or federal funding. These services include health and safety, instructional support, athletics and activities, student learning and staffing, and operations and maintenance.

The proposed EPO levy rates are projected to stay at $2.14 per $1,000 assessed property value (APV) in 2021, 2022 and 2023. The levy is projected to collect $7,392,656 in 2021, $7,984,068 in 2022 and $8,622,793 in 2023.

“Our focus has been to maintain our current educational programs and preserve our regular permanent staff. With the replacement EPO levy we will have the capacity for innovation to further challenge our students with new educational experiences,” said Kris Grindy, WSD’s business manager. “We are mindful of our resources, and do not want to ask for a dollar more than what is needed to provide the very best educational opportunities and outstanding facilities that promote a healthy, safe environment so all students can rise to their potential.”

In September, board members approved WSD’s $45.8 million budget for the 2019-20 school year. WSD, which was facing a deficit of $1.7 million, balanced its budget by increasing its levies, using reserves and “finding efficiencies,” according to Templeton.

In 2018, the last “pre-McCleary” year, WSD collected $2.74 per $1,000 APV. In 2019, dubbed a “transition year,” the district collected $1.50 per $1,000 APV. That number increased to $1.98 for 2020.

“Could we have asked for more? Yes. We know that $2.50 is the lid,” Templeton said. “We looked very carefully at our financial situation, the operations and programs that we want to run, and said, ‘We’re going to ask for exactly what we need to keep this district rising,’ and we believe that’s $2.14. That is also about the investment that people used to make.”

Technology levy dollars pay for the district’s one-to-one device per child initiative, up-to-date computers, classroom instructional technology, professional development and coaching, technology infrastructure and staffing, and curriculum and software.

The proposed technology levy rates are projected to decline over the three years of the levy, with the rate per $1,000 APV at $0.25 in 2021, $0.24 in 2022 and $0.22 in 2023. The technology levy is projected to collect $845,000 in the first year of collection, $870,000 in 2022 and $898,000 in 2023.

Templeton highlighted Grindy’s “Herculean” work to provide district administrators with the information they needed to arrive at the new levy figures.

“All the business directors in Washington figured out the moving parts and how they work together,” Templeton said. “To make a determination based on projections and trends of enrollment and efficiency measures that we need to take, and then getting funding (from) a completely different model, how do we set this rate? Kris started the work and did the heavy lifting, and then we chatted with the board members and let them weigh in. We talked about the pros and cons. We talked very honestly and transparently about what we’re going to recommend and how you’re going to see us continue to innovate.”

In addition to strings and dual-language programs, WSD could implement additional social-emotional and behavior support systems and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) opportunities for highly capable students, and expand its successful Club 8 middle-school program to the elementary levels if the levies are approved, Grindy said at the Nov. 26 meeting.

“We have spent many, many hours looking, talking, conferring with our colleagues, asking for advice, getting input, looking at our projections and making sure the board is fully informed and aware,” Templeton said. “We have put a lot of effort into this because it’s important to us to make sure that when we ask our voters to support us that we are confident about what we’re asking for and that we can show how it’s going to impact our district in a positive way and see us continue to rise.”

Templeton said that she’s hoping that “there wouldn’t be much of a difference from the pre-McCleary investment in reference to what folks are paying” if the new levies are approved.

“When we put out our informational brochures out there, we’ll start to talk very specifically about what this means for taxpayers, because I would want to know,” she said. “We have a responsibility to make sure we’re commutating clearly to the public as their decision is about supporting schools.”