Washougal School District will bring replacement levies back to voters in April

After majority of Feb. 14 voters shoot down funding for athletics, arts, technology and more, school board OKs placing levies on April ballot

Washougal resident Nichol Yung waves to a passing vehicle while holding a "Vote Yes" sign at the northeast corner of 32nd Street and Evergreen Way in Washougal on Jan. 30, 2023.

The Washougal School District (WSD) will place two replacement levies that failed to earn approval from voters earlier this month on an April special election ballot.

The Washougal School Board approved a motion during a special meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 21, to re-run educational programs and operations (EPO) and capital facilities and technology levies that would allow the district to pay for athletics, arts, technology and other services not funded by state or federal governments.

As of Monday, Feb. 20, with 58,450 Clark County Special Election ballots counted and an estimated 200 ballots remaining, Proposition 10, the WSD’s replacement EPO levy, had received 2,852 “no” votes (53.5%) and 2,481 “yes” votes (46.5%), while Proposition 11, the WSD’s replacement capital facilities and technology levy, had received 2,748 “no” votes (53.1%) and 2,425 “yes” votes (46.9%).

“I was disappointed, but I can’t say that I was surprised (that the levies failed),” said Washougal resident Pam Maas, the president of the Washougal Citizens for Schools political action group. “I know there’s been some frustrations with the district in the past few years — some of it COVID related, some of it pre-pandemic. I wanted to be hopeful, but I was definitely starting to come to terms with the fact that it probably wasn’t going to pass.”

If approved, the levies would replace the district’s three-year EPO and instructional technology levies, which are set to expire at the end of 2023.

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. If approved, the levy would collect $9.5 million in 2024, $10.5 million in 2025 and $11.5 million in 2026.

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.

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 would also increase opportunities for STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) and visual and performing arts, district leaders said.

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, 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 school district projected the levy would collect $950,000 in 2024, $3.95 million in 2025, and $4.15 million in 2026.

Social media ‘definitely a troublemaker,’ parent says

“A disconnect” exists between the facts and some of the voters’ assumptions about the levies, according to Maas.

“(Some people who voted ‘no’ are) not necessarily understanding how the funds are allocated and what happens once they’re allocated,” she said. “(The district is not asking) for more money — it’s actually a little bit less. Where it’s going, the percentage in each category, would change a little bit.”

The spreading of inaccurate information via social media may have hurt the levies’ chances of passing, Maas said.

“I think social media is definitely a troublemaker,” she added. “It’s a little too easy to drop a nugget of information or what seems like accurate information, and then it spreads like wildfire, and it really gets people steamed up. I’ve been reading conversations in some of the public forums, and I think really what it comes down to is that people are feeling frustrated with things, and maybe they feel that voting ‘no’ would somehow get the district’s attention. I guess I just don’t understand how voting ‘no’ will improve the situation. It’s a punishment for the kids, not the district.”

Maas said that she hopes the levies’ failure will act as a “wake-up call” to the Washougal residents who didn’t vote earlier this month. Clark County reported that 32.1% of eligible voters casted a ballot as of Monday, Feb. 20.

“I think it’s been something like 25 years since the last (WSD levy) failure, so it might have been easy for some people to say, ‘It’ll pass. They don’t need my vote,'” Maas said. “I’m hoping that those folks who would have voted ‘yes’ will say, ‘I should have (voted). I will next time.’ But we don’t want to take that for granted. I don’t think it’s that simple. We need to spend the next two months getting out there, finding ways to communicate with people and letting them have a voice. Even though I feel confident in voting ‘yes’ for me and my family, I understand that there are other points of view, and I want to hear them.”

The district has created a survey to “gather feedback from our patrons to better understand the results of the failed levies,” according to the WSD website. The survey can be viewed at surveymonkey.com/r/WSDlevies.

“(The Washougal Citizens for Schools group) really wants to understand (why people voted ‘no’),” Maas said. “I want to have thoughtful conversations. Maybe it’s a really simple answer (that we can provide to make someone) feel more confident in voting ‘yes.’ I really do want to have my ears open and listen to the frustrations, and see if I can convey some of that information to the district, and say, ‘Here’s the questions they need answers to,’ and that might make all the difference.

“I have kids who depend on the public school system. We didn’t have alternatives. We need public schools,” she continued. “Yeah, we had frustrations during the pandemic, but I don’t see the direct relationship between taking away, say, technology funds or building funds (and those frustrations). There are so many ways that (the levy failures) are going to hurt the kids. There are kids who have no alternative but public school, so we’ve got to try to … find where the misunderstandings are, clarify those things and move forward for the sake of the kids.