On the positive side, Battle Ground voters have one more chance, on April 23, to support their schools. On the negative side, if they don’t approve the school levy, about 18-20 percent of funding for their schools’ daily operations and maintenance will be lost. Even more discouragingly, this is their last chance this year. A similar levy was rejected in February by 53.4 percent of voters, and state law allows only one more levy try this year.The Columbian supported the earlier levy in Battle Ground this year, and our stance hasn’t changed. It’s no secret that Battle Ground was the only district among more than 40 in the state in which a school operations and maintenance levy failed in February. The North County community is better than that, and school officials are hoping a larger turnout can reverse the decision.
Our one concern with this levy is that it asks for slightly more than the levy it replaces, about $4 more per month for the owner of a $200,000 house. District officials say the increase is needed mostly to meet unfunded mandates — including $1.2 million for a new state-required program to evaluate performances of teachers and principals — plus additional counseling, resources and maintenance.
Critics complain that the district doesn’t do a good job managing its money, to which we respond by pointing to a two-year study conducted in Battle Ground by the California firm Expense Reduction Analysts. It’s instructive to know that this firm was not paid a built-in fee, but instead was paid 50 percent of the savings it recommended. The consultants not only reported that the Battle Ground “district’s focus on keeping costs low is phenomenal,” but added that, of the more than 15,000 cost reviews the firm has conducted, Battle Ground is “unprecedented” in its efficiencies.
What about accusations of the district being “top heavy?” According to state reports, Battle Ground annually spends $571 per student on central administration, less than the statewide average of $621.
Are Battle Ground’s costs per student out of control? Not at all. That figure is $8,827 annually, less than the statewide average of $9,696.
What, then, led voters to reject the replacement levy in February? We’re not sure, but district officials have seen second-try levies pass before, and they say they hope an increased turnout will consist mainly of supporters. For the sake of students and teachers, we hope they’re right, because there’s a second deep pain that would come with a second failure. Battle Ground is defined as a property-poor school district, and receives $6.1 million annually from the state in levy equalization. That matching money would evaporate if the levy fails.
Countywide, support of public education remains consistent. Of the four other local districts that presented maintenance and operations levies on Feb. 12, all four succeeded. Battle Ground deserves the same support.
Two other levies appear on local ballots on April 23 and likewise warrant approval. La Center is asking again for $200,000 per year for six years for athletic facility improvements. The same proposal failed by just 26 votes in February. Green Mountain School District is seeking $70,000 annually for four years for land acquisitions and portable classrooms.
Until the mandate in the state constitution to fully fund K-12 education is met by the Legislature, school districts have no choice but to turn to local voters. On April 23, we hope the answers in Clark County will be “yes.”