Washougal School District voters are being asked to replace two levies in the Feb. 11 special election — an operational levy that helps pay for educational services and maintenance not funded by the state or federal government as well as a technology levy that helps keep Washougal students’ technology and computer training up-to-date.
The Washougal School Board voted in November 2019 to place the replacement levies on the Feb. 11 ballot. If approved, they will replace the district’s current levies which expire on Dec. 31.
The Washougal Levy Committee is spreading its message through its website at washougal4schools.org, social media sites and via public-speaking engagements. The group is emphasizing that the levies will not result in new taxes; provide funding for more than 14 percent of the district’s budget; fund basic programs for the next three years; and do not pay for school construction.
“We are optimistic, but I would add that we as a district have a responsibility to have a return on the investment,” Washougal School District (WSD) Superintendent Mary Templeton said. “I think some of the things that we’re doing in the Washougal School District, the way we’re communicating, and also some of the successes that we’re having that are very public — our on-time graduation rate, our sports programs — are the returns on the investments that folks are making.
“When we think about knowing, nurturing and challenging all students to rise, we are really committed to that,” she continued. “At the high school we have close to 1,000 students, and all of those students are planning and preparing to have a pathway and a plan when they finish. Not 60 percent of those kids are going on to something. Not 75. One-hundred percent of those kids are moving on to the next step, and we know that’s what it takes. Part of all of this is investment in that.”
Levies fund education, operations and technology initiatives
The first levy, known as the educational programs and operations (EPO) levy, funds things such as health and safety, instructional support, athletics and activities, student learning and staffing, and operations and maintenance for the school district.
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.
If the EPO levy is approved, the district will explore the possibilities of adding string music and dual-language programs; implementing additional social-emotional and behavior support systems and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) opportunities for highly capable students; and expanding its successful Club 8 middle-school program to the elementary levels, Templeton said.
“Ultimately, the EPO levy provides for things that basic education doesn’t pay for,” said Templeton. “We believe that there are things around social and emotional wellness — students feeling safe — (that) are investments that we have to make, and we’re going to make, and we have made. We’re not fully funded for those things, so we will continue to make sure they are taken care of from our local dollars. And there are obviously experiences and opportunities that our children really enjoy and need to extend the school day – sports programs, music programs, those types of things.”
The district’s technology funds things such as the district’s initiative to supply at least one technology device to every student, 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 a rate of 25 cents per $1,000 APV, 24 cents per $1,000 APV in 2022 and 22 cents per $1,000 APV 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.
“The tech levy supports the district’s technology initiative 100 percent,” said Nathan Knottingham, chairman of the Washougal Levy Committee, a political action group advocating for the passage of the Proposition 8 and Proposition 9 replacement levies on the Feb. 11 ballot. “As a parent, I’m happy with how much technology training my children are receiving. In the last 10 years (technology) has exploded into what they’re going to be utilizing every day. They need to learn to use technology safely and wisely, and to be careful with it. To know that what I teach them at home is being reinforced at school is fantastic.”
In September 2019, Washougal School Board members approved the district’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,” said Templeton.
In 2018, WSD collected $2.74 per $1,000 APV. In 2019, dubbed a “transition year” after state legislators changed the way school funding works in Washington, increasing state funding and capping local levies in an attempt to bring equity to school districts throughout the state, WSD collected $1.50 per $1,000 APV. That number increased to $1.98 per $1,000 APV for 2020.
Combined, the replacement levies would cost the owner of an average Washougal home (valued at $325,000) about $777 a year, or roughly $66 per month.
Knottingham, who moved to Washougal from McMinnville, Oregon, in 2017, said he has been impressed with the district’s efforts and pleased with his children’s experiences at Hathaway Elementary School, where his son, Titus, is a fourth-grader and daughter, Trinity, is a second-grader. If anything, Knottingham said, his expectations have been exceeded.
“We chose to move into the Hathaway (area) because even though the school was considered ‘Title 1′ (having a higher concentration of students from impoverished families), it had such an amazing sense of purpose and hope,” Knottingham said. “My kids have been taught to effectively communicate with others, which is such a valuable skill. And, personally, I was very excited about the multicultural aspects of the school. At Hathaway, kids are taught to dream big, and they’re excited about what they can (accomplish) in the future. That message is spreading to the other schools and the kids are listening, which is great.”
Knottingham has served as a member of the Hathaway Booster Club and the Washougal Schools Foundation, but recently shifted his focus to advocating for the replacement levies’ passage.
“I’ve only been in the community for three years, but I understand some of the school district’s history, and I’ve seen the change under new leadership,” Knottingham said. “(WSD’s leaders are) focused on success, and you don’t want to stop that progress. Voting for these levies is one way to support that progress.”
Templeton said the levies are critical for the school district.
“They allow us to be that superstar district that is rising to the top,” Templeton said. “Our mission statement is, ‘Every child is known, nurtured and challenged to rise.’ We need resources to do that. We believe that we are asking for just the right amount of money and that every dollar counts. We also know that we will continue to look for efficiencies and ways of doing business that will allow us to be the most productive with the dollars that are invested.”
“We went through an interesting time in school funding with McCleary – up and down, back and forth, (asking), ‘How do schools get funded?'” Templeton added. “We are eager to return to a place of consistency and predictability so that schools can plan for the future. In 2017, pre-McCleary, voters were investing a total package of about $7.13 in schools. That’s what we’d like to return to – about that same amount. The components are a little bit different because our bond (payment) is going down, but we want to go back to what folks were investing in schools before we went into this interesting, challenging, complex funding experience.”
Templeton said the difference between the 2020 levy rates and the proposed 2021 rates is about 17 cents per $1,000 APV for taxpayers.
“So whatever you paid in 2020, if your assessed value is the same in 2021, it will be about $55 (more) a year (in 2021),” she said.
Levy opponents bring up sexual education
Former Washougal City Councilwoman and chairperson of the Clark County Republican Party’s 18th Legislative District Committee Connie Jo Freeman penned a statement for the voters informational guide in opposition to the replacement levies.
“The school levy will burden taxpayers and help raise already high rent prices,” Freeman wrote in her opposition statement. “Schools already spend $12,000 per child. Is the education system better than when you were in school? Only 51 percent are meeting the math standards, only 63 percent in English and only 44 percent in science.”
Freeman’s statement also claims that sexual education programs in Washington schools fail to explain the risks of certain activities; promote acts that could lead to child sexual abuse; and train students to believe they can acquire birth control and receive abortions without parental consent.
This month, Washington state senators passed a bill that would require every public school in the state to provide comprehensive sexual health education.
“Schools now spend time on social issues,” Freeman states. “The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction is working directly with Planned Parenthood to mandate comprehensive sexuality education (CSE). Promoted as age appropriate, the CSE/FLASH curriculum isn’t made readily available to parents. Schools should stick to teaching academics, leaving parenting to parents. Parents and grandparents — before voting yes or no, find out what the school’s teaching your children about sex.”
Community has OK’d levies before
Washougal residents have shown a willingness to financially support their schools through levies and bonds in recent years.
In 2017, voters approved maintenance/operations and technology levies. In 2015, voters passed a $57 million bond for the construction of Jemtegaard Middle School, Columbia River Gorge Elementary School and the Excelsior building at Washougal High School. In both instances, the propositions received support of more than 60 percent.
“My job is to make sure I’m communicating what that investment would provide for us,” Templeton said. “I also know that this is a very supportive community for schools. What I’m hearing out in the community – I’m out there a lot – is, ‘We value what’s going on in the Washougal School District. We’re excited about innovation and the rising in the district.’ People like the idea of us being a top performer. There’s agreement that there’s nothing stopping us. We are excited about what we hear about investment, that there’s much value for the school district.”
“The community sees renewed hope and energy from the school district and the students and parents,” Knottingham added. “I think we’re going to successfully pass the replacement levies because the community wants to thrive and to grow and be successful, and wants those things for the children and the future of the community. A lot of people are finding a sense of pride in that right now.”
The levies require a simple majority for passage. Ballots and informational pamphlets were mailed to potential voters on Friday, Jan. 24, and were expected to arrive no later than Wednesday, Jan. 29. Ballots must be deposited in an official election drop box by 8 p.m., Feb. 11, or postmarked by Feb. 11 if being sent through the mail.