Washougal School Board eyes fate of levies

Board will likely ask voters to approve replacement levies during February 2023 election

Washougal School District voters may soon decide the fate of two local school district levies that help fund programs, activities, athletics, technology, maintenance and safety needs not covered by state or federal funds.

The Washougal School Board is expected to vote Nov. 22 — or possibly at its first meeting in December — on whether it will send two replacement levies to voters in the Feb. 14, 2023 Special Election.

The levies would replace the three-year current enhanced programs and operations (EPO) levy and three-year technology and capital levy for instructional technology levy voters approved in 2020, both of which are set to expire on Dec. 31, 2023.

Washougal School Board president Cory Chase said during the Board’s Nov. 8 meeting that the replacement levies look “pretty cut and dry.”

“I appreciate that really, there’s no surprises here,” Chase said. “This is all stuff that we’ve been talking about for a long, long time. This goes back several years of forecasting where we were going to be at this particular time. This is just the evolution of the last several years and where we are right now.”

According to the district, the three-year EPO levy Washougal voters passed in 2020 helped “develop a high school and middle school orchestra program, add social-emotional and behavior supports, increase science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) opportunities, offer a dual language immersion program (and) expand Club 8 afterschool programs to elementary schools.”

The bulk of the current EPO levy pays for student learning and staffing (42%) as well as operations and maintenance (29%) needs not covered by state or federal revenues. The remainder pays for athletics and activities (13%), instructional support (12%) and health and safety (4%) needs, also not covered by state or federal funds.

The proposed EPO levy rates for 2023-25 would be lower than the rates voters approved in 2020: $1.99 per $1,000 assessed property value (APV) in 2024, 2025 and 2026, down from $2.14 per $1,000 APV in 2021, 2022 and 2023. The levy is projected to collect $9.5 million in 2024, $10.5 million in 2025 and $11.5 million in 2026.

“We’ve been good stewards of the resources, and we’re very conscientious about the taxpayers’ money,” Chase said. “I don’t like to go back and ask for tax increases and that kind of stuff, and people don’t want to see that, either. But I think … we’re asking for a fair amount, and we’re doing everything we can to kind of keep the cost down to the taxpayers and still get the resources that we need to keep this district running.”

District leaders have recommended keeping the replacement capital facilities and technology levy rate at $0.21 in 2024 and increasing it to $0.84 in 2025 and to $0.85 in 2026, to help the district address several long-term maintenance and safety needs, including a new security door access systems; a new roof at Washougal High School; new boilers and control systems for the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems in the district’s older buildings; new flooring; and doors at main building entrances that will comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“This work helps keep students secure, warm and connected,” said Kris Grindy, the district’s director of business and operations. “The district’s voter approved 2015 bond included a step-down that begins in 2025. In order to keep tax rates stable and consistent, the proposed capital projects levy would use the step-down in the bond payments to raise additional funds without a big year-to-year change in people’s property taxes.”