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

School levy elections ahead--N/GRV district voters deal with levy issues


January 25, 2018

Lisa Nelson, superintendent of the Naselle/Grays River Valley School District.

Naselle Grays River Valley School Superintendent Lisa Nelson recently took some time to talk about the maintenance and operations levy that will be on the ballot coming out this week.

"We rely on the levies because we are not adequately funded," Nelson said. "We've had some form of levy in place since 1965. Possibly earlier. Suffice it to say, we have a long history of having a levy in place and this is the lowest projected collection for the district since 2000."

The last time a levy came before Naselle and Grays River voters, the district asked for and got $715,000 for three years. At the time, taxpayers were paying $3.06 per $1,000. As assessed value has changed, so has the rate, which now stands at approximately $2.93 per $1,000.

This year, Washington state legislators decided to cap the amount of money that districts could request from their communities at $1.50 per $1,000 assessed home valuation or $2,500 per FTE (full time equivalent), whichever is less.

After much discussion, the district decided to honor the state's decision. They could have gambled that legislators might lift the cap, but they did not.

"We didn't want to put something on the ballot that contradicted what the legislature said is a law," Nelson said. "We had quite a bit of conversation about that. For the voters who have been following this through, it was going to make us look a little disingenuous to say well, we're asking for $2.48 when the law is $1.50. But there is a definite downside to that."

Nelson hopes the levy will pass, but even if it does, the district will be hurt financially.

"The new three year levy, if passed by the voters, is for $450,000 to be collected in 2019, 2020, and 2021," Nelson said. "We've been conservative and built up our reserves a bit. We're hoping we can get by. But it only takes on septic system to fail or roof to be replaced. It's unprecedented times and we are very concerned about it."

She estimates that the school will be in the position to lose as much as $500,000 over the next three years.

"This is going to hurt us in the long run," Nelson said. "The one thing is that if there is a change, and they take the $1.50 away and say $3.00 or unlimited, we're locked in. We had to weigh that going forward. We felt like our fund balance had been strong. Could we get by with less? We felt that we could, but it is a matter how much less and what were our contingencies?"

They are not the only ones. According to Nelson, there is a lot of pressure from school officials all over the state to get the legislature to fix this problem created by the cap.

"It's kind of an interesting twist," Nelson said. "If the legislature is saying they've fully funded education, why couldn't you go out for any amount your community wanted to support? Hypothetically speaking, if they wanted a swimming pool or an ice ink and the community wanted to do it, why would the legislature say no, you can't do that?"

According to Nelson, the levy pays for everything above the bare minimum needed to graduate. That includes sports, drama, online learning, choir, band, and any advanced studies. Any electives and some of the school's vocational offerings. It also covers the cost of travel to and from these events.

"You have to have a certain amount of electives to allow a student to earn a diploma," Nelson said. "But you don't have to offer calculus, you don't have to offer band, you don't have to offer chemistry. What we consider a basic way of doing business, or providing for our kids, those are really enhancements that the levy dollar allows us to have."

"It is very important to the operation of the district," Nelson said. "It's considerably lower than it has been in the past. It is integral to what we do. The community providing that support, to me, is a sign that they support the programs and offerings that they have. It's sort of a litmus test of how they feel about the school and the school district and what we're doing. It's critical and we're hoping we can get their support."


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