In Our View: Voters say ‘Yes’ to Schools

Area’s high quality of life is sustained with approval of ballot measures

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Saying you support education is one thing; stepping forward to help pay for schools is another thing altogether. Kudos to voters in and around Clark County for passing education-related ballot measures Tuesday. All seven funding requests were affirmed by percentages ranging from the mid-50s to a whopping 72 percent in the tiny Green Mountain School District.

One of the chief components in this area’s high quality of life is an enduring support for public schools, and it’s good to see that tradition upheld even in these tough economic times.

The biggest issue — in terms of total voters and amount of money involved — was the Evergreen Public Schools’ property tax levy. The total of 25,142 participating voters (36.1 turnout) was five times bigger than the next-largest voting crowd. And the $180 million to be spent over four years starting in 2013 is more than triple the next-highest amount approved in the county Tuesday. Evergreen voters left little doubt, supporting the measure by nearly 15 percentage points. Wednesday’s updated totals showed 57.52 percent approval and 42.48 opposition.

The Columbian endorsed Evergreen’s property tax levy, but reluctantly because the district asked for an increase of about $8 million over four years and we believe spending should be kept in check during the economic downturn. Let’s hope they make good use of the extra cash. Evergreen administrators say it’s needed to help cover inflation.

Overall, the $180 million will be used in a dozen or more areas. Even with the levy approval, though, more cuts could be forthcoming. Evergreen and most other districts in the county depend on levy equalization funds from the state (which go to “property poor” school districts), and the Legislature is considering reducing that funding source.

The devastating impact that would’ve resulted from failure of the ballot measure proves that voters made the right decision. If the levy had been rejected, about one-fifth of the operating budget would’ve been cut in a district that has reduced spending by $26 million in four years.

“I’m proud of our community,” levy campaign co-chair Lora Taylor said in a Wednesday Columbian story. “They did the right thing for our schools and our kids.”

In Ridgefield, the $47 million school bond issue is a smaller amount than what was approved in the Evergreen district, but it delivers a heavier per-capita burden on Ridgefield property owners. The property tax rate for levies and bonds will increase from $2.11 per $1,000 of assessed home value to $3.84. But that still will be the lowest rate in the county, and it was good to see voters position Ridgefield schools more competitively with other districts.

Voters also had to overcome two other challenges in Ridgefield. Because it was a school bond issue, supermajority approval (60 percent plus one) was required; 65.4 percent was achieved. Second, tradition was working against the district, which had seen two decades of bond failures. But because this bond issue asked about half as much as the $85 million that fell short of supermajority approval four years ago, Ridgefield voters correctly said “Yes” to 24 new classrooms and other improvements.

Elsewhere in the area, voters approved ballot measures in Hockinson (two), Woodland, Green Mountain and the Stevenson-Carson district (where 55.1 percent of voters OK’d their first-ever levy, raising $1.5 million to compensate for diminishing federal timber payments).

As often happens in this region, voters said yes to schools Tuesday night, and that’s good for all of us.