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Camas school levy supporters get out the vote ahead of Feb. 13 election

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category icon Camas, Latest News, Local Schools, News, News, Schools
Drivers pass a pro-Camas schools levy "Vote Yes" sign near the corner of Northwest Lake Road and Northwest Sierra Street in Camas, Friday, Jan. 12, 2024. (Kelly Moyer/Post-Record)

Camas School District voters will soon decide the fate of two replacement levies that supplement state and federal funding and account for approximately 15% of the school district’s annual revenues.

Advocates of the levies, which will be decided in the Feb. 13, 2024 Special Election, say voting “yes” on both the educational programs and operations (EP&O) levy and the capital levy for educational technology, health and safety will ensure that Camas students can learn in well-maintained buildings, have access to current technology and receive an education that goes beyond what is funded by the state and other governmental resources.

“Voting ‘yes’ bridges the gap between state and federal funding, which only finances a very generalized, basic K-12 standard, to one which provides an exceptional educational experience for Camas students … (and) ensures Camas schools, classrooms and facilities stay safe, warm and dry,” Patrick Hennessey and Mark Klein, co-chairs of the pro-levy Camas Citizens for Quality Schools (CCQS) group stated in pro-levy statements published in the Clark County Feb. 13, 2024 Special Election voter’s guide.

The levy investments, Hennessey and Klein added, are “reasonable and valuable” and will benefit the entire Camas community.

“Strong schools facilitate strong communities,” Hennessey, who raised two Camas High School graduates with his wife, Connie, a member of the Camas School Board, told The Post-Record this week. “If they have children, people choose where they live based on schools, and companies choose to invest where they know their working families will have good schools.”

A community with a thriving educational system often means a safer community, Klein added. “(Youth) who are educated and engaged in schools grow up to be productive members of the community, as opposed to finding mischief in other ways.”

The Camas community has long supported the school district’s levies. In fact, election results dating back to 2000 show that, before 2021 — when levy support dipped to 53% for the educational programs and operations (EP&O) levy and 56% for the educational technology, health and safety (tech-capital) levy — the “yes” votes for Camas School District’s replacement levies ranged between 61% in 2010, following the Great Recession, to 68% (EP&O) and 69% (tech-capital) in 2017.

Hennessey said Vote Yes Camas members have discussed the dip in voter support in 2021, and believe the COVID-19 pandemic and related public health mandates that kept students in a mix of remote and hybrid classes for more than a year impacted the 2021 levy vote.

“We are certainly aware of that vote and believe it was highly pandemic-related,” Hennessey said. “School was out, and voters may have felt that, until kids were back in school … maybe there was less funding needed.”

This time around, levy supporters are concentrating on promoting the levies’ various benefits for Camas students; pushing for higher voter turnout; and focusing on the fact that the levies are not new or even increased taxes for Camas residents.

“This is not a new tax or a new estimated rate,” Hennessey said. “This is just keeping the same operations (Camas schools already have).”

If approved, the replacement levies would continue to cost Camas property owners $1.82 per $1,000 assessed property value (APV) for the EP&O levy and 39 cents per $1,000 APV for the tech-capital levy, for a combined cost of $2.21 per $1,000 APV. For the owner of a home with an assessed value of $500,000, the annual cost of both 4-year replacement levies would be around $92 a month in 2025, 2026, 2027 and 2028.

The school district estimates that the replacement levies would bring the district between $23.28 million in 2025 and $25.44 million in 2028.

In the Camas School District, levy funds help supplement state and federal funding for teachers, support staff and special education teachers and assistants, help maintain school facilities, contribute to social-emotional learning programs, purchase additional textbooks and curricula, pay for additional health services and provide 100% of the funding required for extracurricular activities, athletics and other programs not funded by the state.

“The levy funds staffing above what the state provides funding for,” the district explains on its website at camas.wednet.edu/about-csd/budget-development/levies. “This includes additional counselors, librarians and special education teachers. It also pays for additional paraeducators, secretaries, security staff, grounds and maintenance, bus drivers, technology staffing, substitute teachers and school nurses.”

If the levies were to fail, the district has said “the programs and positions funded by the lev(ies) would face elimination or heavy staffing reduction, including teaching positions, classroom support, school sports, music, art, counseling, safety and nursing.”

“This levy allows a nurse at practically every school,” Hennessey added. “Without the levy funding, we would have about four nurses for the entire district.”

‘Challenged to find local opposition’

Though the “Vote Yes Camas” supporters are aware that some Camas community members may not want to continue funding the levies, they are more focused on the strong support the levies have traditionally received in Camas, and on promoting the levies’ benefits to students and the community.

“No one is questioning the validity of these programs, and we hope they understand that this is not a new tax or a new tax rate,” Hennessey said, adding that the Camas Educators Association, the union representing Camas educators, has “been a strong partner” in the push to get the most up-to-date levy information out to the wider community.

The levy supporters also know they may have to counter misinformation, Hennessey said, but added that the group has been “challenged to find any real local opposition or messaging we need to counter.”

The opposition statements published in the local voter’s guide, Hennessey said, came from someone who lives outside the Clark County area and “didn’t have a lot of substance.”

Jeff Heckathorn, a Snohomish County resident who reportedly has penned dozens of “con” statements against school levies in local Washington voter’s guides over the past two years, wrote both of the statements against the Camas levies published in the Clark County Feb. 13, 2024 Special Election voter’s guide.

“… Most traditional public schools in (Washington) are spendthrifts,” Heckathorn argued in one of his two voter’s guide statements against the CSD replacement levies. “More money, same poor results. It doesn’t matter how much money they are given. They always seem to need/want more.”

Instead, Heckathorn argued, “what if we had school choice vouchers to give families a choice and taxpayers a break? Perhaps that is needed to introduce some competition for the monopoly to both improve and to become more efficient. And most importantly, many students learn better in environments other than what the assigned traditional public schools provide.”

Public school advocates have long argued that giving families vouchers to use at private schools harms public education by depleting state education resources. The Oregon Education Association, which represents around 41,000 public school educators in the state of Oregon, stated in 2021 that “vouchers do not reduce public education costs,” but, rather, contribute to “larger class sizes and fewer resources such as textbooks, school nurses and counselors, lab equipment and music and athletic programs.”

Other public education advocates say voucher systems mostly benefit wealthy families who likely would have sent their children to private schools with or without a voucher. A 2017 Propublica investigative journalism report, for instance, showed a voucher program in Vermont used taxpayer dollars to help wealthy Vermont residents pay for pricey prep schools, ski academies and boarding schools.

Mark Klein, who co-chairs the pro-levy CCQS group with Hennessey, said state funding does not adequately cover the cost of public schools Camas families have come to appreciate.

“State funding for the schools in Camas do not cover the costs of several programs and operating costs the district budgets for each year. As a result, the district turns to the local citizens to approve levy dollars,” Klein said. “Costs that the levy dollars pay for include areas such as school nurses, librarians, athletics and extracurricular activities, special education, music and arts, substitute teachers, transportation, advanced courses and much more. This long list illustrates the importance of voting ‘yes’ for the levies on Feb. 13.”

Klein reiterated what Hennessey said about strong schools contributing to strong communities: “A strong district is attractive not only to the students and their families, the educators and the administrators, but it is also attractive to local businesses and the whole community in general,” he said. “Over the past few decades we have seen the school district and the Camas community grow stronger and stronger.”

Get out the vote

The pro-levy group will be trying to get information out to the public in the coming weeks, ahead of Election Day on Tuesday, Feb. 13. Ballots are being mailed Friday, Jan. 26, and should arrive in Camas mailboxes by Feb. 1. Beginning Feb. 5, only in-person registration for the Feb. 13 election will be allowed. More information about the special election and registration dates can be found online at clark.wa.gov/elections/february-13-2024-special-election.

Hennessey, Klein and Camas school leaders, including Camas School District Superintendent John Anzalone, have been meeting with school staff, families and community groups to help spread information about the levies.

Anzalone said Monday that the group had met with 11 of its 13 schools and had meetings scheduled at Camas Connect Academy and Lacamas Lake Elementary School.

“We’ve hit multiple (parent-teacher organizations) and have more to go,” Anzalone said, adding that the levy advocates had met with Camas-area community groups, including the Rotary Club of Camas-Washougal and the charitable “100 Men Who Care” group, and are scheduled to speak with members of the Chamber of Camas-Washougal this week.

Anzalone added that the district’s various employee unions had also joined efforts to help get out the vote through various social media sites.

“I’m feeling optimistic,” Anzalone said of the upcoming vote on the replacement levies.

The superintendent — who replaced longtime Camas schools superintendent Jeff Snell in July 2022, more than a year after the last Camas schools levy vote on Feb. 9, 2021 — said the levy dollars are critical to the local school district.

Anzalone said 24% ($4.6 million) of the EP&O levy funds help pay for certificated positions, 12% ($2.36 million) goes toward special education programs, 10% ($1.9 million) pays for supplemental certificated contracts, another 10% ($1.86 million) funds classified staff positions, 9% ($1.63 million) pays for athletics and extracurricular programs, 7% ($1.39 million) pays for staff development, 7% ($1.29 million) helps fund central administration staff, 6% ($1.2 million) helps pay for principals and the remainder — around $2.8 million in total — helps the district pay for substitute teachers as well as food-service and student transportation needs.

He added that the tech-capital levy, if approved by voters next month, is expected to bring a little over $17 million into the district over a four-year period spanning 2025 through 2028, and would fund “computer hardware and software, technology infrastructure, program licenses and agreements, roofing replacements on aging CSD facilities, boiler and HVAC upgrades and replacements, (and) safety and security.”

“What may look like a small piece of the pie is not,” Anzalone said.

For more information, visit camas.wednet.edu/about-csd/budget-develop ment/levies/.