The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

School levy elections ahead--Wahkiakum SD seeks continued support

 

January 25, 2018

Bob Garrett, superintendent of the Wahkiakum School District.

With a maintenance and operations levy on the ballot coming out this week, Wahkiakum School District is hoping to rely on the community for continued support for its educational programs.

"We are asking for the same amount of money that we asked for four years ago, $997,000 a year," Wahkiakum School District Superintendent Bob Garrett said. "Four years ago when we made that request, the estimated tax rate was $2.73, I believe. That same dollar amount based on the new assessed valuation is now $2.38. The tax rate has gone down but the assessed valuation has gone up in four years."

They've taken a gamble, asking for more than the cap set by the state legislature allows. With the McCleary decision, the state legislature decided to set that cap on levies at $1.50 per $1,000 assessed valuation or $2,500 per full time student, whichever is less.

There has been so much negative feedback to that decision from districts all over the state that Wahkiakum is hoping the legislature will lift the cap before their current session is over.

"The media made it sound like all our woes had been solved," Garrett said. "For Wahkiakum, it's not good at all. According to the fiscal analysis done by the ESD (educational service district), if the McCleary decision is actually implemented exactly the way the law has been written, we stand to lose a little more than $1,000,000 in the next three years. That's even more than we have in our cash reserve. That can't be.

"The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction is now recommending the fixes," Garrett added. "It's good to know the state is now recognizing what it has done to some of the districts in an adverse way. It would really be an adverse impact to us if they don't fix this."

Still, and this is important, if Wahkiakum voters pass the levy as it is and the state does not rescind the cap, the levy will automatically roll back to $1.50 per $1,000.

"The community, in the 24 years I've been here, has been so supportive of education," Garrett said. "It's incredible. We've always requested a levy less than the amount allowed by the state. The reason we did it, we've always done it, is because we're sensitive to the overall tax burden to the public. We're not asking for luxurious things to come our way as the result of the levy. We're basically saying, these are the kind of programs that the community has been supportive of in the past and we would like to be able to continue them."

These programs include electives like calculus and chemistry, athletics, knowledge bowl, pep band, honor society, and more. Levies pay for transportation to and from extracurricular events. According to Garrett, 60 percent of the K-8 students and 50 percent of the high school students have qualified for free and reduced meals. The state and federal government subsidize the food service program, but the district relies on levy money to pay for the rest of it.

Garrett said that the state also funds special education for up to 13 percent at a district, which doesn't cover the enrollment at Wahkiakum, where 20 percent of the population is in special education.

"We love having these students," Garrett said, "but it's a high cost program and we're not adequately funded."

"There are good things going on in Wahkiakum School District," Garrett added. "Our kids have way more opportunities than they had four years ago. The people that are being hired are really committed to kids. I continue to think this is a great place to live, work, play and have your kids go to school. We're hoping for the best, and we know we have a great supportive community. We're counting on them to continue to trust us as good stewards of the money."

 

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