School board covers topics from robotics to enrichment levy


January 20, 2022

The Wahkiakum School District Board of Directors covered a lot of ground Tuesday, talking about transportation, the coming levy, the lawsuit, transportation, and more.

Superintendent Brent Freeman was most animated when he began to talk about witnessing the school’s robotics team participation in a regional competition, which pitted Wahkiakum against some students from bigger school districts.

“It was an absolutely wonderful experience,” Freeman said. “It was amazing to see the kids come together. Our kids and our team rolled in there and ended up providing parts and assistance to other teams. They were going to compete with them and help them out. It was a really different competitive dynamic there.”

He praised their advisors, Ronn Wright and Jeff Rooklidge.

“They are phenomenal as teachers,” Freeman said.

Freeman said Wahkiakum’s team came away with five different awards and were waiting to hear if they had qualified for state.

“There were two matches that showed what champions those kids were at problem solving,” Freeman said. “What are we trying to do in public education? We are trying to teach kids to think. We don’t want them to memorize, we want them to think. They were working through problems in a pretty chaotic department. They were phenomenal.

"If that doesn’t give someone hope in education and humanity, I don’t know what will. It was one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in the time I’ve been here. And it was great to see, because it was our kids.”

Freeman also spoke to the board about the four year enrichment levy that will be on the ballot in a special election next month. The district is asking for $997,000 per year for four years, which comes to approximately $1.78/$1,000 assessed home value.

Collection for the proposed levy would begin in 2023 and continue through 2026.

He said that the community had supported a levy for decades, clarifying that bonds were for buildings, and levies were for learning, and that this had nothing to do with the lawsuit that the school had filed against the State of Washington to fund capital facilities.

“We are really dependent on levy money,” he said. “A levy is what we use to support anything above what the state funds us for.”

This includes athletics, coaches’ salaries, field trips, library books, some instructional materials, special education, fire extinguishers, defibrillators, lighting, locks, communication equipment, security equipment, technology, cleaning, insurance, any arts programs like drama and band, and more.

Freeman said that he planned to use the federal money currently available to fund as much of the school’s technology, like chrome books and hot spots, for the next two years, but would need the levy money for technology in the years following.

The district provides instruments for students from grade school up to high school with levy money, which also pays to transport them to band competitions and athletic events.

It pays for safety equipment, for grass and water on the sports fields, for the care of the gym floor, and upkeep on bleachers and bandstands.

It pays for some of the field trips, paying for overnight lodging for students when it’s needed.

It also helps keep class sizes small. The district is funded for 21.279 teachers, Freeman said, but the district has 28 teachers. It supports funding for para-educators, custodians, IT staff, and substitutes.

“Half of what the levy collects will be used just on staff for our kid’s coaching, the extra paras, the extra staff we’ve got, rounding out the rest of our salaries,” Freeman said.

Ballots will be mailed on January 21 for the February 8 election.

Freeman said the school district’s lawsuit against the state had gotten a lot of publicity and he expects more. The state had asked for an extension, he said, and meanwhile, he was hoping to get county support, and to rally more from other districts in the state.

Transportation Supervisor Calvin Grasseth gave an update on transportation. He was pleased to report that two new substitute drivers had joined what he later described as a “great group of bus drivers.”

“It’s a wonderful thing in this day and age,” he said. “Every school district is having trouble having enough drivers or getting enough drivers. Other districts have had to cut routes…to try to get by with the numbers they have.”

Grasseth said that the new special needs bus that had been ordered last May still hadn’t arrived. It was supposed to be delivered in September or October and still hadn’t arrived, slowed by parts issues.

The chassis had finally been secured, he said, and according to the most recent information, the bus was supposed to be completed at the factory by the end of March, with delivery sometime in May, barring any other issues with parts.

A major backlog had many districts feeling the effects, Grasseth said.

He said the district’s decision to participate in the state’s depreciation schedule to purchase buses had a positive effect on his department.

“With the new buses that we have…general maintenance goes down,” Grasseth said. “It’s so much better from the reliability standpoint. I haven’t had a bus break down en route in two seasons, which is almost unheard of. It allows me more time to do the other things I need to do.”

He spoke about the district’s small, aging vehicle fleet, which includes one SUV from 1999, noting that it was difficult to find parts for vehicles over 10 years old.

Freeman said the district couldn’t afford a new vehicle right now, but they were looking for good deals at state surplus to rotate out some of the older vehicles.

“I think we are coming up to that point where we have to address it,” he said.


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