B.G. schools officials say fears of dissolution premature

District board members to discuss second levy attempt Monday

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter


Updated: April 15, 2013, 1:37 PM


Public meeting

What: Battle Ground school board meeting, where the April levy proposal will be discussed.

When: 3 p.m. Monday.

Where: Former Lewisville Middle School, 406 N.W. Sixth Ave., Building C, Room C-26, Battle Ground.

Website: Battle Ground Public Schools

Battle Ground levy Failures

The Battle Ground levy has failed 14 times since 1983.

Feb. 12, 2013: failed to reach the required majority vote (46.52% yes, 53.48% no).

February and May 2006: failed twice (supermajority of 60% approval required).

March 2000.

March and May 1997 and May 1998: failed three times.

February 1995.

April and February 1992: failed twice.

February 1988.

February 1986.

February 1984.

May 1983.

Requested amounts in the February 2013 failed levy:

2014: $24.4 million, an estimated $4.49 per $1,000 assessed property value.

2015: $25.4 million, an estimated $4.52 per $1,000 property value.

2016 $26.3 million, an estimated $4.51 per $1,000 property value.

2017 $27.3 million, an estimated $4.46 per $1,000 property value.

Washington voters approved 40 out of 41 local school levies at the Feb. 12 special election, and most passed with more than 60 percent approval. The only district in the state that didn't pass its maintenance and operations levy was Battle Ground Public Schools.

Some in the community have expressed fear that the district will fold into another district if the levy fails a second time. Officials with the district, Education Service District 112 and the state say it's too early to make that call.

"We have another opportunity. The sky's not falling," Shonny Bria, the district's superintendent said.

Battle Ground school board members will meet at 3 p.m. Monday to discuss placing the levy on the April 23 special election ballot. Under state law, school districts may try twice in a given year to pass a levy.

Although the district's last levy in 2010 passed on the first try, Battle Ground Public Schools has a history of not passing levies. In the past 30 years, the district has had levies fail 14 times. That includes multiple double-levy failures as recent as 2006 and a triple-levy failure in 1997 and 1998, according to a report from the county's elections office.

After that triple-levy failure, as many as 37 teachers were slated to be cut. But over the summer, 52 teachers either retired or found jobs in other districts. So after the levy passed on the fourth try in September 1998, the district had to hire some additional teachers. Still, the total number of teachers was reduced.

"The district has survived many times with a double-levy failure," Bria said in a phone interview. "But at what level financially? The district would not look the way we know it right now."

If the levy fails a second time, Battle Ground would lose about 20 percent of its operating revenue, plus another $6.1 million in levy equalization money it receives from the state. That money is available only to property-poor districts, and only if the district passes a maintenance and operations levy.

The double-levy failure in 2006 "had huge effects," Gregg Herrington, district spokesman, said.

The district had to make layoffs at all levels. Assistant principals were cut. Teachers were laid off. Class sizes increased.

At the Monday board meeting, Tim Merlino, chief financial officer at ESD 112, and other ESD officials will address House Bill 1431, the law on dissolving financially troubled school districts. A public comment period will be offered, followed by board action on the levy proposal for the April 23 ballot.

The 2012-13 operating budget is $120.8 million. Levy money helps make up for the shortage in state support for public schools, which has been cut during the past four years.

According to the district, the current 2010 levy is paying for all or much of assistant principals, middle school counselors, middle school intramurals, new materials and textbooks, school busing costs, school maintenance, Aspire program for highly capable students, reading intervention specialists, equipment and supplies for K-8 music and art programs, high school extracurricular activities not covered by fees, and the English Language Learners program.

It's been seven years since the district's last levy failure. If the levy fails on the second try in April, the district can't run another levy vote until 2014, and if successful that money wouldn't be available to the district until spring 2015, after taxes are collected.

"Talking about dissolving the district is like putting the cart before the horse," Bria said. "We have a good track record of surviving levy failures."

If the levy fails on its second try in April, Bria said it's unclear at this point how the necessary budget cuts would impact the district. The number of teachers, support staff and programs to be cut hasn't been determined.

With two levy failures, Bria noted, "We would have $16.4 million less. That means cutting programs and people."

The ESD's Merlino said, "Dissolution of a district is the final option."

Merlino was on the committee that worked with the Legislature to develop the 2011 law about dissolving insolvent school districts. Before dissolution occurs, a district has to work with a financial oversight committee or the enhanced committee to turn the district around. The law wasn't written for districts facing difficult times to dissolve, Merlino said.

"Battle Ground has had double-levy failures before, and they have been able to cut their way out of it," Merlino said. "It's definitely very painful and hard to do."

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