By JESSE BURKHARDT
Continuing a tradition of strong support for their local schools, voters in the Trout Lake School District have voted overwhelmingly to approve the district's maintenance and operations (M&O) levy.
In updated, unofficial returns reported as of Feb. 10, the M&O levy was winning approval with nearly 69 percent of the vote. There were 290 "Yes" votes in support of the levy (68.56 percent) as opposed to 133 "No" votes (31.44 percent).
The special election was held on Feb. 8.
School Superintendent Doug Dearden said he was "very pleased" with the outcome of the vote.
"Historically, we've gotten great support from our citizens here," Dearden said. "We were confident, but we didn't think we'd get that high a level of support, given the current economic conditions. This community is really incredible in terms of a willingness to support education -- and not just in the levies but other ways as well. The community has really made education a priority."
Passage of the M&O levy will now authorize the Trout Lake School District to replace an expiring M&O levy "upon all taxable property within the district, for support of the district's general fund educational maintenance and operation expenses."
Specifically, the approved M&O levy will tax property owners $2.24 per $1,000 of assessed value for 2012/2013, and $2.20 per $1,000 for 2013/2014.
Dearden said the money will go to keep the school operating efficiently.
"A fair share of it will go just to maintain the programs we have," Dearden explained. "We'll be able to maintain the current sports programs and all the activities we have here for kids. We offer a pretty rich program for the size of school we have, and we want to continue to maintain that."
Another key use for the money is to improve the condition of the 1993-vintage school buildings.
"We've been working on our roof in stages," he said. "This will allow us to continue that process. It will get us pretty close to finishing it off. It will be nice to have a new roof without having to go to the community for a bond measure."
Dearden noted that replacing the entire roof was roughly a $250,000 project. With the M&O levy passage, it is now expected to be completed by next year.
"We upgraded the roof, too," he added. "It's still a composite roof, but we had a 20-year roof and the new one will be a 50-year roof."
The school's aging heating and air conditioning systems also need upgrading, and Dearden is hopeful some of the levy money will go to make improvements there as well.
"We've just been band-aiding things over the last two years," he pointed out.
The K-12 enrollment at Trout Lake's schools has grown significantly over recent years.
"We started this year at 210 students," Dearden explained. "Three years ago, it was 170. We've grown a lot, particularly at the elementary school level."
Dearden, who has worked in the Trout Lake School District for the past 23 years and as superintendent for the past eight, said he does not believe the school has ever had an enrollment this high.
"I think it's as big as it's ever been," he said.
With the student numbers increasing, the M&O levy will allow the district to hire a full-time equivalent teacher as well as provide for some educational assistants in the classrooms.
Thanks to the levy's passage, Dearden added that even with anticipated budget cutbacks at the state level, Trout Lake's school system should be able to weather the fiscal storms over the next two years.
"We should be in pretty good shape, even with the cuts from the state," he said.
Dearden stressed his appreciation for residents of the school district.
"The school feels really blessed to have such strong support from the community," he commented. "I want to stress how thankful my staff is for that support."
According to the Klickitat County Auditor's Office, voter turnout in the Feb. 8 special election stood at just over 61 percent.