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School District M&Amp;O Levy Goes To Voters

Election day is Feb. 7

By SVERRE BAKKE

The Enterprise

Part way through his explanation of why the White Salmon Valley School District needs a two-year, $1.675 million maintenance and operations levy, Superintendent Dale Palmer paused.

He didn't do it catch his breath. And it wasn't for dramatic effect.

Rather, Palmer wanted to give his listener's brain time to catch up to all the information it was receiving and processing.

As his mind crunched the numbers, the listener came to understand what a complex business school financing is, that without local levy support, schools couldn't meet all the demands that are placed on them by not just students and parents, but community organizations and state and federal education bureaucrats as well.

"To put it as simply as I can, we can't live without the levy," Palmer said. "Of our total budget, 82 percent is what the state funds. The other 18 percent comes from the levy and state levy equalization funds we get only if we have an approved local levy."

Two years ago, 70 percent of voters who participated in the levy election gave their support to a two-year, $1.425 million M&O levy. That levy expires at the end of this year.

To keep local money flowing into the school district's coffers in 2007-08 and 2008-09, voters are being asked to approve an increase in the levy of $250,000 per year.

"What voters need to know is that this is a replacement levy. It's not a new tax," Palmer said.

The extra $250,000 the district is requesting would be budgeted as follows:

$90,000 per year would help offset the loss of $235,000 in state apportionment funding due to declining enrollment. The balance of $145,000 would be made up through reductions in staffing and other, as-yet unspecified budget cuts.

"We can't lay off anymore than that because if we do we'll fall below the state funding formula," Palmer said, "and the state will take even more money away from us."

$50,000 per year would pay for installation of security systems in district facilities.

The district already has spent $13,000 for a security system in Columbia High School's A Court Building. That work was completed in December.

First-year levy funding would provide security for the rest of the CHS campus. The remainder of the first $50,000 and all of the second $50,000 would be used to secure Hulan L. Whitson Elementary and Wayne M. Henkle Middle schools.

"We'll finish off CHS, then go as far as we can go with the other buildings ... at least the office areas because they were broken into, too, during the last burglary," Palmer noted.

$30,000 per year would go toward the purchase of new technology.

"When we reduced staff two years because of declining enrollment, we also cut every operating budget in the district," Palmer said. "Our technology budget is now down to $34,000."

Of that total, $21,000 pays for annual site licenses, virus protection and system filters. The other $13,000 covers the cost of repairs and replacement of hardware, and software upgrades.

"We're asking for $30,000 each year for two years so we can get some new technology into our schools without having to rely on grants," Palmer said. "We probably should be asking for $100,000 but this is a good start."

$30,000 per year would maintain and operate the Park Center building.

With rental income the district will receive from the building's two remaining tenants and $30,000 per year from the levy, "we hope to break even on meeting the building's maintenance and operations expenses while the board figures out what we're going to do with the building," Palmer said.

$25,000 per year would allow the district to hire a TASK Room supervisor at Henkle Middle School. TASK, the acronym for Teaching Acceptable Skills to Kids, is an in-school program for dealing with students with behavioral problems.

"The TASK Room is a time-out room," said Palmer. "It's a place teachers can send disruptive students to, where staff can work with them on behavioral modification."

Funding for the TASK Room was eliminated two years ago.

As a result, all discipline at the middle school is being handled by the principal; students who are removed from classrooms are sent to the school office, where supervision is left to office staff while the principal sees to his other duties.

"It's not a good situation for the students or the staff," Palmer said. "We desperately need this program back to make the middle school run more effectively."

$15,000 per year would cover increases in non-employee related costs. These costs, known to school officials as NERCs, include insurance premiums, utility charges and fuel prices.

$10,000 per year would buy the equipment that district maintenance personnel would use to properly keep up the district's athletic fields.

"The White Salmon Valley School District is the parks and recreation district for this part of Klickitat County, and nobody is paying to use our facilities," Palmer said. "As long as that's the case, it makes sense for us to buy the equipment and take care of the fields ourselves instead of hiring out the work to contractors."

The possibility that voters might reject the school district's latest levy request is something Palmer doesn't want to think about.

As he looked at the numbers in front of him, he paused again, then said, "Having to cut $1.675 million out of the budget? That's a road I don't even want to go down."

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