In February voters will get to decide whether or not to fund a $2.63 million levy approved by the White Salmon Valley School Board of Directors.
School board members unanimously approved the levy at their regular meeting last Thursday. The board has wrestled with increasing the levy and which areas it would supplement, if passed, and how long to run it at a workshop earlier in December.
The $2.63 million levy comes to $2.61 per $1,000 of taxable assessed value and is a $235,000 increase to the previously run levy. This levy would also be run every three years instead of every two.
At the workshop specifically called to examine levy options on Dec. 4, board members came to an interim consensus on a levy that would have increased by $210,000 and come to $2.59 per $1,000 of taxable assessed value. At last Thursday’s board meeting, members were still comfortable with most of the aspects of that levy option, except for technology.
Under the first option, technology would have been supplemented with $75,000 gained from the levy, but Superintendent Dr. Jerry Lewis and Business Manager Jennifer Jacobson examined pushing the levy a little further to up that amount by $25,000.
“It’s only raised a few cents per thousand, but it gives us basically another whole year of support, so we felt that’s worth it to take a gamble with,” Lewis said.
Of the audience comments at Thursday’s meeting, those from Peter Knowles, a veteran teacher at Columbia High School, struck board members the most. Knowles said in his examinations of the district’s current technology needs and what that could look like in the future, the $75,000 originally planned to supplement technology from the levy just wouldn’t cut it.
“If $75,000 from the levy is the direction we’re thinking of going it just doesn’t seem like it’s enough to support that and we’re going to have to make some really hard choices in the area of technology in the coming years. I realize the levy is only part of the budget picture, but it’s the part of the budget picture we control locally, and that’s better than what we can depend on from the state,” Knowles said.
Knowles went on to explain that the steps the district has taken in regards to technology during the three years of the now-matured technology levy were in the right direction and that he fears programs like the new Chromebooks introduced to Columbia High School will suffer without adequate funding.
“I would be very concerned if decisions were made about where our funding might go in coming years without real consideration of our technology use,” Knowles said.
In addition to the $100,000 that would go toward technology if the levy passes, another $37,000 would be used to support a part-time drama teacher at Columbia High School and Henkle Middle School and a part-time teacher certified to work with English-language learners (ELL) at Whitson Elementary School.
The need for an ELL-certified instructor at Whitson stems from the school falling behind in two subgroups, English-language learners and special education students, for multiple years regarding Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in reading and math.
At the workshop, Jerry Miller, district curriculum and instructional facilitator, said hiring at least a part-time ELL-certified instructor would help address the needs of at least one of those subgroups substantially.
The levy would also help support expanding the White Salmon Valley Preschool Program, which is usually funded by Education Services District 112, but had to be supplemented by $15,000 from the White Salmon Valley School District this year due to budget shortfalls.
The $35,000 generated from the levy would help expand the preschool from 54 slots to 72.
The remaining $25,000 that could be gained from the levy’s passage would go toward the district’s rising curriculum costs as it prepares to implement the Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards.
While many of the details regarding which areas the levy would benefit were hammered out prior to Thursday’s meeting, board members also weighed whether or not to implement a 2 percent inflationary factor in the levy that would have generated another $52,000.
That option ultimately seemed too risky and was pushed aside. Lewis explained it could cost up to $20,000 if this levy fails and the district has to run it again.
“It would strengthen the no votes because they would say ‘you’re asking for a raise and then another raise every year and not telling us what you’re spending it on’ and ‘there’s the government out there spending our money again and not telling us where it’s going to go,’” said Board Member Paul Mosbrucker.