Camas School District will place levies on February ’24 ballot

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A welcome sign greets visitors at the Camas School District's headquarters Aug. 24, 2021. (Kelly Moyer/Post-Record files)

Camas School District voters will soon decide the fate of the district’s educational programs and operations (EPO) and capital-technology levies that fund a variety of programs, extracurriculars, technology needs and building maintenance not covered by state educational funds.

The Camas School Board voted unanimously to go out for two four-year replacement levies during the February 2024 special election.

“This is a very critical amount of money that goes to some very, very direct support for our schools,” Camas School District Superintendent John Anzalone said Monday, Nov. 27, during the school board’s regular meeting.

Anzalone said Monday that, after reaching out to various stakeholders that included parents, students, community members, teachers and principals, he was recommending “flat rate” EPO and capital-technology levies that would not raise taxes while still bringing in nearly $1 million in new revenues for non-state-funded programs and facilities or technology needs.

“I feel the message of ‘no new taxes’ will really resonate … and reflect guidance from our stakeholders,” Anzalone told school board members Monday.

Though district leaders had always planned to keep the capital-technology levy at a flat rate of 39 cents per $1,000 assessed property value (APV), Camas School Board had mulled various options for the EPO levy during their Nov. 13 workshop.

Those options included keeping the EPO levy at its 2024 rate of $1.82 per $1,000 APV; increasing the total levy rate by 5%, which would have cost taxpayers $1.92 per $1,000 APV; bumping the total levy rate up by 10%, resulting in an EPO levy rate of $1.99 per $1,000 APV; or increasing the EPO levy rate to the maximum per-pupil rate allowed under state law, which would have resulted in a $2.18 per $1,000 APV rate.

If voters approve the replacement levies, taxpayers will continue to pay the same rate they pay in 2024 for the EPO ($1.82 per $1,000 APV) and capital-technology (39 cents per $1,000 APV) levies. That rate will cost the owner of a $750,000 home $1,658 a year — $1,365 for the EPO levy and $293 for the capital-technology levy in 2024.

If voters OK the replacement levies, the district is expected to collect $19,131,728 from the EPO levy in 2025 — a $911,035 increase in revenues over 2024 — without raising the tax rate. Camas School District administrators expect the flat-rate EPO levy also would collect $19.7 million in 2026, $20.3 million in 2027, and $20.91 million in 2028.

A 5% increase to the EPO levy rate would have cost the owner of a $750,000 home an additional $6.25 a month while taking the maximum-allowed EPO levy rate would have cost the same homeowner an additional $300 a year, or $25 a month.

Instead, school board members said they did not feel the extra monies collected from the rate bumps would justify risking an election loss.

During the Board’s Nov. 13 workshop, one community member suggested asking voters for the maximum EPO levy rate in February and then lowering the tax rate in the spring 2024 election if voters rejected the February proposition, but school board members said they believed doing that would cause undue stress on the community.

Camas School Board President Corey McEnry pointed out that he and board member Connie Hennessey have both worked in school districts that have failed to pass levies, only to appeal to the community and have the levies pass during a subsequent election cycle.

“The anxiety … and having to make preparations for what happens if (the levy fails completely) … I don’t know that that’s a conversation I’d want to drag this community through,” McEnry said during the Board’s Nov. 13 workshop.

Hennessey agreed.

“There is a ton of angst throughout the whole system (when a levy fails its first pass with voters),” Hennessey said Nov. 13. “And if you don’t pass it again, it takes a whole generation to recover.”

The question for most board members was, as Hennessey put it: “Do you risk not passing a levy to try to get a little bit more money?”

“I don’t think going to the max rate would be wise at this time, at all,” Hennessey said.

The levies bring in money for programs not funded by the state, including 100% of the district’s extracurricular programs.

“The existing (EPO) levy accounts for about 15 percent of the general fund revenues,” Anzalone explained in his report to the school board. “As in years past, the district’s plan will be to invest local levy funds in the (extracurricular) activities for students, professional development for staff and additional positions beyond the prototypical school-funding model.”

Anzalone said the existing state school-funding models “do not meet local expectations for security/safety, maintenance and operations … and staff to serve the social-emotional-health needs of (Camas) students.”

“Furthermore, state and federal funding falls short of our community’s expectations and our legal obligations to provide a free and appropriate education to our students with special needs,” Anzalone said.

The superintendent added that the district’s capital-technology levy provides roughly 98% of the district’s hardware and software purchases.

“We also have ongoing capital maintenance needs that keep our students dry (roofs), warm (boilers) and safe (turf replacement),” Anzalone noted in his report to the school board.

The replacement capital-technology levy is expected to collect $4.15 million in 2025, $4.27 million in 2026, $4.4 million in 2027, and $4.53 million in 2028. Anzalone noted that the capital-technology levy funds would allow the school district to invest $9.3 million in technology, including computers, Chromebooks and security cameras; $6 million in roof repairs at Camas High and Liberty Middle schools; $700,000 for boilers at Camas High School, and $1.3 million for turf replacements at Cardon Field and Doc Harris Stadium.

Anzalone showed school board members how the district has utilized its EPO levy and fund balance monies, with $5 million (24%) going toward certificated staff positions; $2.5 million (12%) to special services for students; $2.1 million to fulfill supplemental contract promises to certificated staff; $2 million for classified positions; $1.8 million (9%) for extracurricular activities, including athletics and student clubs; $1.5 million for staff development; $1.4 million for central administration; $1.3 million for principals; $1 million for certificated substitutes; $900,000 for food service; and $500,000 for transportation needs.

On Monday night, school board members considered feedback from stakeholder groups – most of which urged the board to be conservative in its ask of the community — and said they supported keeping the levy rates the same for taxpayers.

“We have had hours of talks around this … talking with our stakeholders and committees,” school board member Erika Cox said Monday. “I agree with the flat rate. I believe this is the prudent thing to do for our community and the right message for our families and for our taxpayers.”

Hennessey added that — because the levies provide funding for staff, programs and capital or technology needs not covered by the state’s per-pupil funding formula — even increasing the levy rates to the maximum allowed under state law will not prevent the district from experiencing a general fund shortage in the coming years.

“Even if we went to the maximum rate, we cannot tax our way out of a state funding model that doesn’t fund basic education,” Hennessey said. “We want to maintain our quality schools, and a flat rate will enable us to do that — with an additional $900,000.”

McEnry said he had grappled with where to settle on the proposed 2025-28 levy rate, but ultimately thought keeping the rates flat was a good idea.

“We’ve all wrestled with this a lot, because we know what our (state funding) forecast is like down the road,” McEnry said Monday. “A local levy isn’t going to fix that. It’s a statewide problem. But it is crucial to pass this levy to fund things we’re already funding. … It’s critical to the continued operations of our district.”

McEnry added that, while Camas voters have historically approved the school district’s levies by wide margins, recent elections throughout Clark County have shown it is getting more difficult for many regional school districts to pass their EPO and capital-technology levies.

The district’s director of business services, Jasen McEathron, showed the school board Monday the results of Clark County school district levy elections held in February in 2021, 2022 and 2023. Of the 11 districts with levy propositions on the ballot, nearly half lost their elections: Battle Ground in 2021; Evergreen and La Center in 2022; and Washougal and Woodland in 2023.

“There has been a lot of research, communication and collaboration that’s gone on,” said Camas School Board member Bamini Pathmanathan, before voting in favor of sending flat-rate replacement levies to the voters in February 2024. “I don’t think it’s an easy decision. With the community in mind, it would be a disservice to … ask for too much and then have nothing. The flat rate, to me, is the responsible decision.”