Washougal levy would expand high-tech program

3 school districts hold special election to extend, boost funds

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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Ballots for the Feb. 11 special election have begun trickling into the Clark County Elections Department.

For now, the operable word is trickling, said Clark County Election Supervisor Cathie Garber, who's counted 65 returned ballots as of Monday. There are 11,265 voters who can cast ballots in the special election, which, historically, doesn't draw a lot of interest.

Ballots, Issues

Ballots for the special election must be postmarked no later than Feb. 11. Drop box ballots are due no later than 8 p.m. the night of the election.

Washougal, maintenance and operations levy: Three years, through 2017, at $3.31 per $1,000 of assessed property value per year. The district’s current maintenance and operations levy rate is $2.79 per $1,000 of assessed home value.

Washougal, technology levy: Three-year levy through 2017. It starts at 37 cents per $1,000 of assessed value in 2015, drops to 35 in 2016 and 34 in 2017. The district’s existing technology levy is 13 cents per $1,000 of assessed home value.

Woodland, maintenance and operations levy: Three-year levy, through 2017. It starts at $2.96 per $1,000 of assessed value in 2015, before dropping to $2.88 in 2016 and $2.79 in 2017. The district’s current maintenance and operations levy rate is $2.45 per $1,000 of assessed home value.

Mount Pleasant, maintenance and operations levy: Two-year levy, through 2016. It starts at $3.85 per $1,000 of assessed property value in 2015 before dropping to $3.78 in 2016. The current levy rate is $2.44 per $1,000 of assessed home value.

"We're looking at a fairly low turnout," Garber said.

This winter's special election is dominated by school district levies. The Washougal, Woodland and Mount Pleasant school districts are asking voters for more money to support educational programs and technological improvements.

The Washougal School District has two levies on the ballot. One is for a maintenance and operations levy, while the other is for a technology levy. Both replace levies that are expiring and would slightly increase property taxes.

The district's three-year maintenance and operations levy would generate $6.3 million in 2015, $6.55 million in 2016 and $6.8 million in 2017. The technology levy, also for three years, would bring in $700,000 for the district in each of its three years.

Brian Wallace, the district's business manager, said the district would use the technology levy to expand the use of tablet computers in the classroom. In 2012, the district unveiled a pilot program that placed tablet computers in the hands of a handful of students in the fifth grade. Money from the technology levy would be used to expand the program for all students in the district.

The money would be used both to buy the devices and to bolster the district's wireless infrastructure. School districts that have moved toward wireless classrooms have discovered they need to boost the amount of bandwidth available to accommodate the devices. Otherwise, Wallace said, "it's like a traffic jam," with the devices lagging.

The district's maintenance and operations levy, meanwhile, accounts for about 20 percent of the district's operating revenue, Wallace said. It will be used on various educational resources, including possibly hiring school resource officers for the middle school.

The district would also use the money to provide all-day kindergarten at all three elementary schools. Currently, only Hathaway Elementary has all-day kindergarten, and that's provided through a state grant because Hathaway is considered a high-poverty school.

Levies continue to be a major source of funding for school districts, officials say, as they wait for more information about how the state plans to implement the McCleary court decision. The 2012 Washington Supreme Court decision said the state wasn't adequately funding primary education and needed to bolster its contribution to school districts.

In Woodland, the operating levy would account for $3.95 million in each of the next three years.

Mount Pleasant's would generate $155,000 in 2015 and 2016.

While it's too early to know exactly how much the election will cost, the elections office estimates it will be roughly $40,000.