Deadline nearing on school’s election

County districts hoping to buoy budgets with levies and bond measures

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

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Ballots must be postmarked by Tuesday in the vote-by-mail Feb. 14 special election, which includes several Southwest Washington school levies.

The Clark County Elections Department has mailed out 85,139 ballots. As of Friday morning, 25,714 ballots had been mailed back. Only those who reside within the boundaries of a school district with a levy measure received a ballot.

Levies or bonds for the Evergreen, Hockinson, Ridgefield, Green Mountain and Woodland school districts are included in the special election.

Clark County Elections Supervisor Tim Likness said he expects about a 42 percent turnout for the election, which means the department should receive about 10,000 more ballots in the next few days.

“I encourage everybody to not wait until the last minute,” Likness said Friday. He suggests that people waiting until Tuesday to mail a ballot should go to a designated ballot drop-off location to avoid any mailing mistakes, such as dropping the ballot in a blue post office box that has already been collected for the day.

Drop off locations are listed on each ballot, and include one on Franklin Street a half block east of the County Elections Department, which is at 1408 Franklin St., Vancouver. Drop-off locations are only open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on election day with the exception of the one on Franklin Street, which voters can use now until 8 p.m. Tuesday.

Levies are taxes assessed on property owners to help pay for daily maintenance, operations of schools and other programs not paid for by the state or federal government. Levies must received a simple majority of more than 50 percent to pass.

Ridgefield schools are asking voters to approve a bond that requires a 60 percent majority out of at least 1,826 votes in order to pass. Levies typically cover operating costs, and bonds pay for building or construction projects.

Levies are particularly important this year, school officials have said, because a statewide $1.5 billion budget shortfall could lead to substantial education cuts for the 2012-13 school year. The Washington Legislature is looking at several potential cuts, including one to levy equalization dollars, which are intended to level the playing field between property-rich and property-poor districts statewide.

The Evergreen Public School’s levy measure would replace its current levy and help fill the gap

between what the state pays for and what it actually costs to maintain programs in the district’s schools. Educators have said they expect that gap to widen.

Money from Evergreen’s current levy pays for all or part of a variety of staff members, including more than 200 instructional staff such as teachers, librarians and counselors; and more than 140 non-instructional staff such as building clerical support personnel and security staff.

Programs supported by Evergreen’s current levy dollars include: textbooks and supplies; some English Language Learner programs, some special education programs, EXCEL classes for highly capable students, bus transportation for elementary students who live more than a half-mile from school, classroom technology, library materials and equipment, building and grounds maintenance, and extracurricular activities, music, athletics and clubs.

Ridgefield’s ballot measure seeks widespread improvements and additions to classrooms, traffic and parking facilities and sports areas. Two dozen classrooms would be added and six deteriorating portable classrooms would be removed.

Green Mountain’s levy proposal would generate $400,000, or around 30 percent of the district’s daily operating budget.

In Hockinson, the money from one levy would go toward roof replacement and repairs at district schools, field drainage at the high school and classroom technology, among other things, according to a levy fact sheet circulated by the district. Similar to the Evergreen Public Schools levy, Hockinson’s other levy measure would address the education funding gap.

If Woodland’s levy passes, the district would take in $3.25 million in 2013, for instance, to go toward staffing, textbooks, transportation and extracurricular activities, among other things. The levy would last through the 2014-15 school year.

Voters with questions or concerns can call the county’s election department at 360-397-2345 or email the department at elections@clark.wa.gov. A ballot listing all measures for the election is available to view on the Clark County Elections Department website at http://clarkvotes.org.

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523 or stevie.mathieu@columbian.com or www.facebook.com/reportermathieu or www.twitter.com/col_politics