Washougal School District (WSD) voters will soon decide the fate of two levies that would help fund a bevy of school district programs, activities, athletics, technology, maintenance and safety needs not covered by state or federal funds.
The replacement enhanced programs and operations (EPO) and capital levies appear on the Feb. 14 Special Election ballot.
“These levies are the commitment that our taxpayers have made to the schools to make sure that we have that level of support and services that (residents) expect in Washougal — athletic programs, arts, music, those kinds of things,” WSD Superintendent Mary Templeton said before the start of a sign-waving event held Monday, Jan. 30, on the corner of 32nd Street and Evergreen Way in Washougal.
“(The EPO levy) is 18 percent of our operating budget, and that’s what provides support for that programming, as well as school nurses, counselors, those things that are basic to education,” Templeton said. “The capital levy funds our technology supports (and allows us to) be up to speed on the infrastructure as well as technology. In the world that we live in today, there’s no way you can do anything unless you’ve got that support. And we have some infrastructure and health and safety needs. When your (facilities) are 25 years old, sometimes things have to get updated, upgraded or replaced.”
The levies would replace the current EPO and instructional technology levies voters approved in 2020, both of which are set to expire Dec. 31, 2023.
“As a parent of a junior at Washougal High School and a former student who graduated last year, I am grateful for the well-rounded education, including sports and club participation, that my daughters received in the Washougal School District,” Pam Maas, the chair of the Washougal Citizens for Schools political action committee, told The Post-Record. “This was made possible with the support of levies, and I’m interested in paying it forward to students who have several years ahead of them in the Washougal schools.”
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.
“While the state provides basic funding, our community expects more for our students,” Rene Carroll, a former WSD employee wrote in Clark County’s Feb. 14, 2023 Special Election voters’ pamphlet. “From excellent athletic programs to amazing drama productions, the work students and staff do every day is made possible by the levy. Our students deserve a well-rounded education with opportunities for the arts, band, choir, drama, world languages, athletics and so much more. Vibrant schools benefit all of us. Our community benefits from strong support for our schools. Students have taken an active role in helping make Washougal an amazing place to be, and they deserve our support.”
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 funds provided by the upcoming levies are needed not just to support extracurricular activities, but also for necessary building maintenance to keep students, teachers and staff safe and comfortable. Because the levy makes up 18 percent of the school budget, and because tax rates will remain steady and then decrease by 2025, it makes sense to me to vote in support of the levy.”
According to the school district, the replacement EPO levy would provide funding for a variety of programs and services, including librarians, secretaries, paraeducators, textbooks, curriculum development, food service, the district’s AVID program, events for Spanish-speaking families, preschool, art, music, advanced placement classes, the district’s highly capable program, professional development and training, substitute teachers and classified staff, special education teachers and support staff, English language learner support, athletics, coaches, advisors, transportation, custodians, grounds and maintenance staff, fuel, vehicles, security staff, counselors, nurses and family community resource coordinators.
Starting in 2025, the funds also will increase opportunities for STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) and visual and performing arts, district leaders said.
Facilities and technology levy would increase in 2025-26 to help address long-term needs
District leaders have 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, to help the district address several long-term maintenance and safety needs, including 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.
The levy is projected to collect $950,000 in 2024, $3.95 million in 2025, and $4.15 million in 2026.
“Modern learning requires up-to-date technology,” Carroll stated in her “pro” levy argument published in the voters’ pamphlet. “The replacement capital levy provides a stable and consistent set of funding. This funding provides support and security for the technology, too. All of this lets teachers and students focus on learning instead of worrying about unreliable or outdated technology getting in the way. In 2025, as school bond payments begin to drop off, the levy will increase by the same amount. A ‘yes’ vote funds maintaining our great schools and ensures students and teachers have safe, warm and welcoming places to learn together.”
‘Perhaps the district should learn to live within a budget’
Dick Rylander, a former Clark County councilman and chief administrator of the conservative Southwest Washington Education blog, contends the Washougal community cannot afford to replace the school levies.
Washougal residents “would love to continue to support levies, but … can’t afford to,” Rylander, who lived in Battle Ground as recently as April 2022, when he was appointed to a vacancy on the Clark County Council, wrote in a statement published in the voters’ pamphlet. “In the last three years, the district has lost 237 students. Our test scores are terrible: 46.7% (of students) are failing English language arts; 62.7% are failing math; and 52.9% are failing science. Our spending per student has climbed from $12,600 to $20,000 in the past five years. We spend more and we slip further behind. The last three-year levy totaled $24 million. The new levy totals $31,500,000, an increase of 31.25%.”
Rylander, a former Battle Ground School District school board candidate who participated in Ballotpedia’s 2015 survey of school board candidates across the nation and listed “expanding school choice” as his top issue, argued the Washougal School District should focus on improving test scores and “basic education.”
“Rather than teaching ‘equity’ and critical race theory and comprehensive sex education and gender identity, the district should focus on improving test scores and using the existing money for basic education and proficiency,” Rylander stated in his argument against passing the replacement levies. “Perhaps the district should learn to live within a budget like we do. There will never be enough money. We just need to demand they spend it on core education.”
Rylander wrote that the WSD “must find ways to do with less.”
“Last time, they got $2,613,000. This extension for another three years asks for $9,050,000, a 246.3% increase,” he stated. “The inflation rate for the past two years has been 15%. How can they justify such an increase? The EPO levy on this ballot has an increase of $7.5 million or 31.25%. Has your income increased by 246% in the last two years? Test scores are in the trash can. Are you an endless well of money? Gasoline prices are at historic highs. A new carbon gas tax goes into effect in 2023 and adds another $0.46 per gallon. Utility rates are up 15% to 20%. Grocery prices are through the roof. The school district needs to feel the same pain we do.”
Though the levies would collect more money overall due to higher property values and a greater number of property owners paying in to the levies, Washougal School District taxpayers would actually pay a lower rate per $1,000 in assessed property value than the rate they approved in 2020: $1.99 per $1,000 APV in 2024-26 for the EPO levy that is up for a vote on Feb. 14, versus the $2.14 per $1,000 APV rate approved by voters in 2020.
Ballots due by 8 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 14
The Clark County elections office began mailing ballots to all eligible registered voters on Friday, Jan. 27.
If a voter does not receive a ballot by Thursday, Feb. 2, they should contact the elections office at 564-397-2345 to request a replacement ballot. Replacement ballots may also be accessed electronically at votewa.gov to print out and return by mail or drop box.
Email requests should be sent to email@example.com or Clark County Elections Office, PO Box 8815, Vancouver, WA 98666-8815.
New voter registrations and voter updates to existing registrations may be submitted online or by mail until 5 p.m. Monday, Feb. 6.Voters may still register and update existing voter registrations after Feb. 6, but must do so in person by 8 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 14.
The elections office is located at 1408 Franklin St. in downtown Vancouver and is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day.
Ballots must be mailed by Election Day on Tuesday, Feb. 14, or placed into official election ballot boxes by 8 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 14.
Preliminary results will be posted online at clarkvotes.org around 8:15 p.m. on Election Day.