The current property tax rate for schools in Ridgefield — $2.11 per $1,000 of assessed valuation — is the lowest in Clark County. By comparison, it’s less than one-third the comparable rate in the Camas district and less than one-half the comparable rate in the Vancouver district. Even if Ridgefield’s upcoming school bond issue passes, the district’s property tax rate still will rank last among school districts that are wholly contained in Clark County.
School supporters in Ridgefield are eager to improve an already-good district, as reflected in the $47 million bond issue that voters will decide on Feb. 14. (Ballots will be mailed on Wednesday).
The Columbian recommends a “yes” vote on this bond issue because Ridgefield has some catching up to do with the rest of the county when it comes to public funding of schools. Also, the need is strong to improve and expand facilities in Ridgefield. A supermajority approval of 60 percent plus one is required, as this is a bond issue and not a levy election.
School bond issues have a less-than-glowing track record in Ridgefield. The most recent — for $85 million in 2008 — fell short of supermajority approval, although the 54 percent approval four years ago signals a general support for schools in the community. This bond issue is different. It’s 44 percent smaller, and instead of offering a new high school, this ballot measure seeks widespread improvements and additions to classrooms, traffic and parking facilities and sports areas, plus other upgrades at every grade level. Two dozen classrooms will be added, and six deteriorating portable classrooms will be removed.
A good example of the myriad crowded conditions throughout the Ridgefield school district is seen at Union Ridge Elementary School, which serves four lunch periods in a gym while physical education classes are conducted on the other side of a curtain in the gym.
The Columbian generally opposes tax increases during economic downturns, but in Ridgefield the crowded schools have become unacceptable. Furthermore, the blame for Ridgefield’s difficulties should be directed at a state government that continually refuses to accept its constitutional mandate to fully fund education.
For these reasons, we recommend Ridgefield voters approve the Feb. 14 school bond issue.
Elsewhere in Clark County
Five levy renewals in four other local school districts are also appearing on Feb. 14 ballots. Each requires 50 percent plus one approval.
The Columbian reluctantly supports the Evergreen school district’s request to renew its expiring levy. We’re troubled that the ballot measure shows increases in the levy rate from $4.19 in 2013 to $4.42 in 2014, and to $4.54 in 2015, then back to $4.51 in 2016. Of the five levy elections in Clark County on Feb. 14, this is the only one that shows such increases. We wish it were not so. Taxpayers are weary of inch-by-inch intrusions by public entities. But the Evergreen district has cut its budget by $26 million in the past four years, and failing to renew the levy would result in additional cuts of $40 million per year. Evergreen officials tell us the increase is to cover about half of projected increases due to inflation.
The other four levy renewal elections show no increases in levy rates. There are two ballot measures in the Hockinson district and one each in the Woodland and Green Mountain districts.
The Columbian recommends “yes” votes in each district.
For more information about the Ridgefield school bond issue and other levy renewal elections in Clark County, visit the respective school districts’ websites.