Mill A district seeks 1st levy

Economic future uncertain for Skamania schools

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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Another Skamania County school district has announced its plans to pursue a new funding source: an operations levy.

The Mill A School District will ask voters as soon as February to approve its first levy. The school board has not determined the amount it will ask of voters. Without the additional funding source, the district may become insolvent in three to five years, according to a district news release.

In January, the Stevenson-Carson School District announced its plans to ask voters to support a levy in the winter or spring of 2012.

Every school district in Skamania County receives federal forest funds to support schools. Under the Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act, the federal funds will be discontinued at the end of the 2011-12 school year unless Congress reauthorizes the bill.

Mill A School District’s fund balance — once more than $1 million — is projected to decline to a little more than $600,000 by the end of the 2011-12 school year. The balance is expected to continue declining at a rate of about $150,000 to $220,000 per year, mostly due to the loss of the federal forest money. Lower student enrollment, dwindling state funding and rising costs of fuel, insurance, utilities, food and other items are also straining the budget.

In 2008, Skamania County school officials toyed with the levy idea. But in October 2008, Congress tacked a four-year extension of forest payments onto its financial bailout package, allowing the districts to survive a few more years without levies. In November 2008, Mount Pleasant voters rejected their district’s levy request by 22 percentage points.

If the Mill A School District places a levy before voters in February, it must file a resolution with the Skamania County Auditor’s Office by Dec. 23.

Since 1906, counties and school districts in areas with national forests or certain other federal lands have received federal forest money. About 85 percent of Skamania County is under federal ownership, with the Gifford Pinchot National Forest encompassing most of the area.

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546 or marissa.harshman@columbian.com.