Camas schools propose 2 levies

Replacement money would pay for technology, maintenance, operations

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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Two proposed replacement levies for the Camas School District would maintain or increase tax rates for four years, but taxpayers could expect an overall drop to their property tax statements if voters approve the changes.

The district will ask voters in February to replace expiring levies. The district will use the money to pay for maintenance and operations and for technology. But starting in 2014, bond rates at the district level are projected to decrease -- the result of the district's refinancing of some capital improvements bonds, along with the retirement of others -- reducing taxpayers' overall bills.

The levies would come at a time of penny-pinching for the school district, officials say.

"We've already trimmed budgets all around." said district spokeswoman Doreen McKercher.

Combined, the levies and bonds would set the tax rate at $7.32 per $1,000 of assessed property value in 2014, before increasing it to $7.61 by 2017. The current rate is $8 per $1,000 of assessed property value, or $1,200 a year for a home valued at $150,000.

The school district predicts the levies, when lumped together, would shore up between $12.7 million and $14.1 million in each of their four years.

The maintenance and operations levy would be used to ensure stable funding on everything from new curriculum

materials to on-grounds safety, district officials say. The technology levy would pay for hardware, software, and infrastructure related to the district's network.

Without the levies, the school district would likely have to make further cuts, McKercher said. Levies represent about 20 percent of the overall funding at the Camas School District.

In the last four years, as the state has shifted more responsibility for education funding to local sources, the school district has cut some sports and other extracurricular programs.

The district has also used budget cuts to justify a $50-per-sport fee for student athletes. Some school programs returned as federal stimulus money was pumped into local economies. That funding has subsequently dried up.

Some cuts have never been reinstated. Those include cuts to the district's building budgets and classified staffing hours for the central administration office and schools.

One program slated for a return is the Learning and Early Learning Advocacy Program, which helps kindergartners improve their reading skills.

Failure of the levies would come as a shock to the district, McKercher said.

"In a district that sees a double levy failure -- that can take years to get out of," she said.

The Camas School District Board of Directors voted unanimously this week to place the levy on the Feb. 12 ballot. They will join similar levies proposed by Vancouver Public Schools for the same ballot.

Tyler Graf: 360-735-4517; http://twitter.com/col_smallcities;tyler.graf@columbian.com.