Washougal school levy foes rally ahead of April 25 election

Washougal School District leaders dispute LevyNo website claims

Sign-wavers urging people to "vote yes!" on the Washougal School District's two replacement levies stand near levy opponents at the corner of "E" Street and Washougal River Road on April 10, 2023. (Doug Flanagan/Post-Record files)

Washougal School District Assistant Superintendent Aaron Hansen (left) waves a "vote yes" sign while a community member waves a "vote no" sign on the corner of "E" Street and Washougal River Road on Monday, April 10, 2023.

Washougal resident Glenn Kincaid (right) waves a "vote no" sign on the corner of "E" Street and Washougal River Road on Monday, April 10, 2023.

Two weeks ahead of the April 25 special election that will decide the fate of two Washougal School District levies that pay for everything from athletics and arts classes to roof repairs, technology and school nurses, a group led by Washougal resident and Clark County Republican Party Precinct Committee Officer Glenn Kincaid gathered in downtown Washougal on Monday, April 10, to wave “vote no” signs and urge voters to turn against the school levies.

The sign-waving efforts followed weeks of online criticism against the school levies on social media sites in which Kincaid alleged the Washougal School District is “failing” the community’s children, accused the district of lying about the levies’ financial details and lobbed a variety of insults against Washougal students, calling them “lazy … entitled … unskilled … and unwilling to learn.”

Kincaid would not return The Post-Record’s requests for comment, but other Republican officials have weighed in on the Clark County Republican Party Precinct Committee officer’s conduct and statements disparaging Washougal students and the Washougal School District.

“People who wish to criticize a school district and/or oppose a levy are as free to speak or post or wave their opinions as those who support a school district and/or its levy,” state Sen. Lynda Wilson (R-17th District) said. “If they do so in a way that some find objectionable — well, that’s the First Amendment at work. It doesn’t matter whether the comments (or) positions are connected to Republicans or Democrats.”

Wilson said she would “encourage the voters in the Washougal School District to also dig into the details and inform themselves about what the levy being proposed means for their family, household budget, community, etcetera (and) then act accordingly.”

“But at the end of the day, if people vote a certain way strictly because of a comment on social media or a website, that’s a choice they are entitled to make,” Wilson added.

State Reps. Paul Harris (R-17th District) and Kevin Waters (R-17th District) said they strongly support Southwest Washington’s schools and that schools need levies now “more than ever.”

“We support our kids now more than ever because of learning loss, especially due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Harris and Waters said in a joint statement. “There are problems with school funding that we hope to address on a legislative level, but for right now, our schools need levies more than ever. Is there room for improvement in the classroom? Yes. But ultimately, we support learning, we support our kids, and we strongly support all of our schools in Southwest Washington.”

Sally Snyder, the vice chair for the Clark County Republican Party did not return The Post-Record’s request for comment.

WSD should recognize ‘traditional’ values, voter says

One Washougal resident who voted against the WSD replacement levies during the Feb. 14, 2023 Special Election, said he was open to changing his mind ahead of the April election.

“I would very much like to vote ‘yes’ next time,” Washougal voter David Knight recently told The Post-Record. “I just need modest reasons for doing that.”

Knight said he was hoping the school district would have to “demonstrate they are listening … and communicate that effectively.”

“In regard to their ‘listening campaign,’ they need to address much wider issues than simply no football or golf next year,” Knight said. “(I need) to hear that critical race theory is not taught in our schools, and that historical information of questionable veracity is not added as part of the curriculum until it is a widely acknowledged fact.”

Critical race theory, which originated as “an intersection of critical theory and race, racism and the law” in the 1970s, is traditionally not taught in K-12 schools but, rather, in higher education classes that examine the role racism has played in shaping U.S. public institutions and policies. After conservative activist Christopher Rufo created an anti-CRT movement during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, the term became a flashpoint for right-wing groups and parents who opposed school districts’ implementation of diversity, equity and inclusion policies.

Knight said he believes critical race theory and Washougal’s “traditional” values are “somewhat wound together in the fashion of a Gordian knot.”

“Both issues revolve around what I would term fact-based education, with the term ‘fact’ being defined as broadly accepted information,” he said. “‘Broadly accepted’ would be defined to mean information that is or was widely proveable, documented and/or agreed upon. Critical race theory does not fall under this general fact based premise in that CRT is a reinterpretation or alternate interpretation of social constructs, and the CRT model is in large part disproven or disagreed with by many expert sources. This brings to the fore my meaning of a ‘traditional’ education.”

The Washougal voter said that, to change his mind about the levies, he also would need to be “reassured that children are not being taught to question their gender.”

“That is a parental role that school personnel have no place in,” Knight said.

Washougal School District officials have recently been hosting “listening tours” to talk to school staff, families and Washougal community members about the replacement levies.

Knight said he supports the listening tours, “but would encourage the school representatives to not begin by being tone-deaf to the true issues of the day.”

“(They) need to demonstrate they really are listening by stating widely and loudly that parental voices, and not just those that are agreeable, are important,” Knight said. “(They should acknowledge) that these voices are welcomed at every meeting, and that Washougal is a generally traditional community that would like their children taught in a traditional sort of way, in a way negotiated between schools and communities in an ongoing conversation, and that the schools respect that view.”

Knight said he would “be impressed to hear that school administrators will encourage a policy whereby all school personnel keep their political preferences to themselves and will enforce that policy.”

School district disputes ‘LevyNo’ website claims

Washougal School District officials this week said they are pushing back against a “LevyNo.com” website that accuses school district leaders of misleading voters about the true cost of replacement levies.

Snohomish County resident Jeff Heckathorn is listed as the LevyNo website’s contact person. According to The Daily Herald in Everett, Washington, Heckathorn also operates the School Data Project and, in 2022, wrote several statements opposing Seattle-area public school levies.

Heckathorn told The Post-Record he believes the Washougal School District’s claim that the replacement levies would increase the average homeowner’s property tax bill by about $2 a month, is “laughable.”

“School districts and all other entities should be conservative with other people’s money,” Hechathorn said.

“The district fails to let their example home’s (assessed value) of $539,000 rise and fall at the same pace as their assumption for the total (assessed value) of all properties within the school district’s tax boundary,” the LevyNo website states. “The district incorrectly assumes that this example home’s (assessed value) stays at the same value ($539,000) for all future years and all past years. This is illogical. This is their biggest mistake and leads to their faulty mathematics and their underestimation of the property tax cost impact to the property owner. The district fails to mention what total (assessed value) growth they are assuming for each of the pertinent years.”

The WSD has stated that the rates for its EPO levy for the next three years 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. If approved, the levy would collect $9.5 million in 2024, $10.5 million in 2025 and $11.5 million in 2026, according to the district.

WSD leaders recommended keeping the replacement capital facilities and technology levy rate at 21 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value (APV) in 2024, then increasing it to 84 cents per $1,000 APV (2025) and to 85 cents per $1,000 APV in 2026. The school district projected the levy would collect $950,000 in 2024, $3.95 million in 2025, and $4.15 million in 2026.

“We anticipate that for a home priced at $539,000, the change will be about $2 per month more in 2024 than … in 2023,” said Les Brown, the WSD’s director of communications and technology.

The LevyNo website, however, has been telling Washougal voters that the school district’s math is incorrect. The website’s author contends that, if the district’s levies will collect $31.5 million in 2024-26 — a 31% increase over the $24 million the levies collected in 2021-23 — then the owner of a $550,000 home would also pay 31% more during that 2024-26 time period.

Those assumptions, however, do not take new construction into account, Brown said.

“Everyone who lives in Washougal knows the community is growing. We can all see the hundreds of new units at Ninebark, and there are hundreds and hundreds more coming at the Preserve and other large and small developments around the community,” Brown, the district’s director of communications and technology, said. “All of these will be contributing to the proposed levies if approved by voters. As more people contribute, the share paid by other taxpayers will go down. This is a major part of why the tax rate can stay stable while collecting additional tax revenue. The board was very thoughtful in planning the rate per (APV) and worked to keep tax rates flat over the three years.”

Brown also provided additional context to the LevyNo website’s statement that the school district’s per-student expenditures during the 2021-22 school year were higher than normal.

“The bulk of the federal stimulus funds, called ESSER (elementary and secondary school emergency relief), were spent last year as the district worked to provide additional support for students, families and the community,” Brown said. “This one-time funding was used to buy COVID supplies and fund additional counselors, nurses, health room staff, expanded summer school, tutoring, and additional staff to teach students. The per-student expenses for this year will be lower.”

Washougal voters will decide the fate of the WSD’s replacement educational programs and operations and technology levies on Tuesday, April 25. If approved, the measures will replace the WSD’s current levies, which are set to expire at the end of this year.