Small school districts seek levy renewals

Hockinson, Woodland, Green Mountain on ballot

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

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Three small school districts are asking voters to support levy-renewal proposals that would help pay for day-to-day operations for between three to four years.

Levy proposals from Hockinson, Green Mountain near Woodland, and Woodland school districts were mailed Wednesday and should arrive in residents’ mailboxes starting Thursday, elections officials said. All votes must be cast by Tuesday, Feb. 14.

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. Officials at Hockinson, Green Mountain and Woodland expressed hope when interviewed this week that their residents would support the tax renewals, despite the lingering economic uncertainty each community faces.

Levies must receive 50 percent plus one to pass.

Levies are particularly important this year, officials said, because a statewide $1 billion shortfall could lead to substantial education cuts for the 2012-2013 school year. The Washington Legislature is looking at several potential cuts, including one to levy equalization dollars, which aid districts that collect less from property tax dollars.

Officials with Hockinson, Green Mountain and Woodland schools said they kept the area’s economic outlook in mind when deciding either to keep their levy taxes the same or slightly increase them over the next few years.

Breaking down costs

Hockinson, a four-school district, has two proposed levies on its ballot. The first would pay the difference between state payment allocations and the actual costs of operating schools. The second would pay for technology and school improvements, and is contingent on the first passing.

In Hockinson, residents would pay $3.90 per $1,000 of assessed home value in 2013 and 2014, $3.86 per $1,000 in 2015 and $3.82 in 2016. For instance, in 2013 and 2014, a Hockinson resident would pay $780 if their house is valued at $200,000.

The second tax for capital projects would be set at 59 cents per $1,000 in

2013, 2014, 2015, and then 58 cents per $1,000 in 2016. The money 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.

Predicting tax-vote outcomes in this economic climate is difficult, Hockinson Superintendent Sandra Yager said.

“It’s hard to tell,” Yager said. She noted, “The last time we had a levy vote (in 2008) our economy was in a different place.”

Green Mountain’s levy proposal will stay at $3.70 per $1,000 during its entire four-year run. The levy would generate $400,000, or around 30 percent of the district’s daily operation budget, according to a district handout.

“We’re hoping … they will realize we’re being good financial stewards of the program,” Green Mountain Superintendent Joe Jones said. “We’re doing our best to acknowledge the needs of (students) and set the levy at a rate that’s affordable.”

The difficulty in a rural K-8 district like Green Mountain is no business exists to offset the tax responsibilities of residents, Jones added.

“Woodland has industry that affects the amount of collections,” the Green Mountain superintendent said. “Walmart helps you out. Out here we don’t have that.”

Woodland’s school levy rate would rise in coming years, if passed, but would still be lower than any district in Clark County, except for Ridgefield. ESD 112 does not count Woodland as a Clark County school district. It is counted as a Cowlitz County district, although a small portion of Woodland falls in Clark County.

Woodland’s levy for 2013 would be $2.45 per $1,000 and then $2.56 per $1,000 in 2014, according to the proposal. The seven-school district’s levy rate in 2012 is $2.33 per $1,000.

Woodland 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 2014-2015 school year, if passed.

Around 58 percent of voters supported the district’s most recent levy in 2009.

“I don’t anticipate it being dramatically different,” Superintendent Michael Green said.

Ray Legendre: 360-735-4517; www.facebook.com/raylegend;www.twitter.com/col_smallcities;ray.legendre@columbian.com.