Clark County voters in three school districts will cast ballots in levies that would raise tens of millions of dollars in the coming years in their respective communities.
The Vancouver, Washougal and Woodland school districts are all running operation levies, and Washougal is also asking for a technology levy to pay for student devices and other computers. And while district officials, particularly in Vancouver, acknowledge the taxation whiplash voters have experienced in recent years, they say the revenue is needed to backfill programs underfunded by the state.
The following are details of the proposed levies by district.
Vancouver Public Schools
How much would the levy cost? The three-year supplemental levy would collect about $10 million in 2021, $10.4 million in 2022 and $10.9 million in 2023.
What does that mean for my taxes? This is a new levy. In year one, rates are expected to be 43 cents per $1,000 in assessed value, then 41 and 40 cents in years two and three, respectively. That means a homeowner whose property is valued at $300,000 would pay $129 in the first year of the levy.
What would it pay for? Vancouver Public Schools says the levy would cover teacher positions to maintain smaller class sizes, and hire nurses, counselors and other staff not funded by the state.
How many students does the district have? 23,473, as of Oct. 1, the latest available data from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
What are district officials saying? It’s been a tough budget year for Vancouver Public Schools, which this year spent more than $10 million between one-time levy equalization dollars and district reserves to cover district operations. That came after steep cuts to central administration and travel for professional development.
Voters approved a four-year levy in 2019 that costs taxpayers approximately $1.50 per $1,000 in assessed property value.
The new levy is a symptom of recent tweaks to the state’s school funding model. Lawmakers in 2018 voted to cap local property taxes at $1.50 per $1,000 in assessed value, prompting Vancouver and other districts in Washington to run levies at that amount. But during last year’s legislative session, under pressure from school districts facing substantial budget deficits, the state lifted the levy lid to $2.50 per $1,000.
“By the state changing the policy, the Legislature was passing the buck,” said Brett Blechschmidt, the district’s chief fiscal officer.
If the supplemental levy is approved, both levies would expire at the same time.
Blechschmidt said the district wasn’t eager to ask voters for more money after only a year, but if the levy fails, it’s likely cuts will be made to classroom programs.
“We can’t grow, we can’t do amazing new things, but we can preserve status quo,” Blechschmidt said. “Which is what we’ve heard that our families really value.”
Washougal School District
How much would the levy cost? Washougal is running two levies: an operations levy and a technology levy. The operations levy would collect about $7.4 million in 2021, $8 million in 2022 and $8.6 million in 2023. The technology levy would raise $845,000 in 2021, $870,000 in 2022 and $898,000 in 2023.
What does that mean for my taxes? Both levies would replace expiring taxes. The estimated rate for the operations levy is $2.14 per $1,000 in assessed property value. That means a homeowner whose property is valued at $300,000 would pay $642 a year in property taxes. The technology levy would cost 25 cents per $1,000 in year one, 24 cents in year two and 22 cents in year three. For a $300,000 property, the tax would be $75 in the first year.
What would it pay for? Like Vancouver, Washougal’s operations levy would cover some staff above and beyond what the state covers. Superintendent Mary Templeton said the district also wants to expand programs, like dual-language opportunities for students, or an orchestra program. The tech levy would pay to maintain student computers and tablets, as well as additional hardware, software and training.
How many students does the district have? 3,247 across Clark and Skamania counties, according to OSPI.
What are district officials saying? Washougal Superintendent Mary Templeton is optimistic that voters will approve both levies. She estimates local dollars make up about 14 percent of the district’s budget, without which the school board would “start making some serious considerations and challenging conversations.”
“We’re going to maintain our strong programs because our kids need them,” Templeton said. “Those are the promises we’re able to fulfill and commit to with the levy support we currently have.”
Woodland Public Schools
How much would the levy cost? Woodland’s three-year operations levy would collect $5.4 million in 2021, $5.75 million in 2022 and $6.1 million in 2023.
What does that mean for my taxes? This is a replacement levy. It’s expected to cost $2.37 per $1,000 in assessed property value in year one, followed by $2.36 per $1,000 in years two and three. A homeowner whose property is valued at $300,000 would pay $711 in the first year.
What would it pay for? The Woodland operations levy would cover career and technical programs, additional staff, classroom supplies, technology equipment and more, according to the school district.
How many students does the district have? 2,535 between Clark and Cowlitz counties, according to OSPI.
What are district officials saying? Superintendent Michael Green said the school district needs to make up for Washington’s consistent underfunding of school programs.
“They fall short in terms of all sorts of key areas, like funding special education programs, funding staff,” he said. “About half of our classified staff are funded locally.”
Green predicts this year’s election results will be “a mixed bag,” but said the levy covers 12 percent of district operating costs. If it fails, “we still have to pay our water bills and light bills,” he said.
“It’s going to result in staff and program cuts,” he said.
Ballots have already gone out to voters. If you live one of these school districts in Clark County and have not received your ballot, contact the Clark County Elections Office. Ballots must be postmarked by Election Day, Feb. 11, or delivered to a drop-off location by 8 p.m. that day. The Columbian will report live on election results as they are released that evening.