Battle Ground staff nervous as levy vote nears

School officials craft who, what would be cut if measure fails at ballot box on April 23

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter

Published:

Updated: April 12, 2013, 9:45 AM

 

Current levy

• 2013: $22.6 million, which costs taxpayers an estimated $4.25 per $1,000 of assessed property value. For the owner of a $200,000 home, this costs $70.83 per month, or $850 annually.

Levy request

• 2014: $24.4 million, which would cost taxpayers an estimated $4.49 per $1,000 of assessed property value. For the owner of a $200,000 home, this will cost $74.83 per month ($4 more per month than the 2013 levy or $898 per year -- $48 more per year than the 2013 levy).

• 2015: $25.4 million, for an estimated $4.52 per $1,000.

• 2016: $26.3 million, for an estimated $4.51 per $1,000.

• 2017: $27.3 million, for an estimated $4.46 per $1,000.

How Battle Ground voted Feb. 12

• Registered voters: 38,641

• Ballots cast: 15,978

• Voter turnout: 41.35 percent

• Yes votes: 7,437 or 46.54 percent

• No votes: 8,539 or 53.44 percent

• Required to pass: Simple majority, or 50 percent plus one

Source: clark.wa.gov/elections/results/index.html

Highest approval

• Precinct 560

• Location: Salmon Creek, east of I-205 and I-5

• Approval: 64.9 percent

• Voter turnout: 45.83 percent

Lowest approval

• Precinct 606

• Location: east of Hockinson, north of Washougal, along Skamania County line

• Approval: 22.1 percent

• Voter turnout: 42.79 percent

Per-student expenditures

(Total of state, federal, local levies, grants and student fees)

• Statewide average: $9,696 per student

Clark County school districts, from lowest to highest

• Ridgefield: $8,101

• La Center: $8,287

• Camas: $8,453

• Hockinson: $ 8,504

• Battle Ground: $8,827

• Evergreen: $ 9,040

• Washougal: $9,232

• Vancouver: $ 9,463

• Woodland: $9,813

• Green Mountain: $10,097

Source: Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction

http://reportcard.ospi.k12.wa.us/summary.aspx?year=2011-12

Transportation costs

• Statewide average: $359 per pupil; 4 percent of total expenditures

Clark County districts, from lowest to highest

• Ridgefield: $251; 3 percent of expenditures

• La Center: $259; 3 percent of expenditures

• Vancouver: $278; 3 percent of expenditures

• Evergreen: $324; 4 percent of expenditures

• Camas: $376; 4 percent of expenditures

• Washougal: $406; 4 percent of expenditures

• Battle Ground: $519; 6 percent of expenditures

• Hockinson: $651; 8 percent of expenditures

County's Three biggest school districts

By area (Clark County totals 629 square miles)

• Battle Ground: 271 square miles (43 percent of county)

• Vancouver: 58 square miles (9.22 percent of county)

• Evergreen: 54 square miles (8.6 percent of county)

By student population

• Evergreen: 25,831 students

• Vancouver: 22,744 students

• Battle Ground: 12,809 students

Imagine being the sole administrator responsible for 825 middle school students plus staff. That was Linda Allen's reality the last time Battle Ground had a double-levy failure in 2006-2007.

Allen was the principal at Lewisville Middle School, and as a result of the levy failure, the assistant principals and counselors had been cut. Student meltdowns -- not an uncommon occurrence for students of that age -- were handled by Allen or by teachers during their prep time.

Now the district's director of human resources, Allen spoke recently about how a double-levy failure impacts students, teachers and staff.

"It was incredibly difficult," Allen said. "Anything we did extra in terms of instruction and curriculum before the levy failure came off the plate."

In less than two weeks, voters in the Battle Ground School District will determine what next year's school year will look like for the district's 12,809 students.

On February 12, Battle Ground was the only district of 41 across the state that failed to approve its maintenance and operations levy. The levy garnered only 46.54 percent approval. It requires a simple majority, 50 percent plus one, to pass. The current levy expires at the end of this year.

District officials have prepared a no-levy budget to determine which programs and staffing will be cut if the levy fails again on April 23. Right off the top of next school year's budget, $16.4 million would be cut. That's more than 13 percent of the district's current annual operating budget of $120.8 million.

"We're looking at 20 to 25 percent cuts to classified staff and comparable cuts to certificated staff," said Mary Beth Lynn, the district's assistant superintendent, finance and operations.

In the no-levy scenario, the district plans to cut between 150 and 160 certificated staff. That includes 90 to 95 classroom teachers in addition to teacher-librarians, middle school counselors and reading interventionists at the middle school. Also on the chopping block are school nurses. Other scheduled cuts are academic enrichment programs -- such as Advanced Placement classes at the high school level, technology upgrades, middle school art and music support and after-school activities in middle and high schools.

"We don't know the impact on our student numbers if we can't offer AP classes," said Marcia Christian, the district's assistant superintendent, human resources.

Perhaps more Battle Ground students would enter the Running Start program at Clark College. Some advanced students would leave to a neighboring district that offers Advanced Placement courses for college credit, Christian said. No one has a crystal ball that can predict how many students would leave the district if the levy fails again.

Levy equalization

If the levy doesn't pass on April 23, the district also will lose levy equalization money, which currently is $6.1 million annually, and $4.4 million in levy equalization money in 2014.

Levy equalization is money the state gives to property-poor school districts that approve levies. The Battle Ground school district qualifies as property poor because it has little industry, no large shopping malls and no large office complexes. These kinds of properties bring in more property tax than the same amount of residential land. In property-rich districts with ample industry, retail and office space, residential property owners don't carry so much of the property tax burden.

The difference in taxable property is evident even within Clark County. While Battle Ground is seeking a levy of $4.49 per $1,000 assessed value in 2014, or $898 for a home valued at $200,000, the levy in Vancouver Public Schools for 2014 is $3.85 per $1,000, or $770 for a home valued at $200,000. At Evergreen Public Schools, the 2014 levy amount is $4.42 per $1,000, or $884 for a house valued at $200,000.

Largest district

By student enrollment numbers, Battle Ground is the third-largest district in the county, with roughly half of the student enrollment in Evergreen or Vancouver districts. But it's by far the largest school district in the county, geographically speaking. It sprawls across 271 square miles, 43 percent of Clark County's total geographic area. The district reaches to the county's northern boundary with Cowlitz County beyond Amboy and Chelatchie Prairie to the district's southern boundary near the Costco on 84th Street and Andresen near the Vancouver city limits.

Every school day, district buses log 10,170 miles taking students to and from school. This doesn't count field trips, athletic events, band trips or any extracurricular busing. The district spends 6 percent of its budget on busing. That's twice the percentage that the Ridgefield, La Center and Vancouver districts pay for transportation. The district receives about 40 percent of its busing money from the levy.

According to contracts, all personnel who are going to be cut from next school year's budget have to be notified by May 15. That's only three weeks after the April 23 levy.

Susan Parrish: 360-735-4515; http://twitter.com/Col_Schools;susan.parrish@columbian.com.

Battle Ground Levy Results Feb 2013