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News / Clark County News

A stellar night for Clark County schools

Voters pass levies in eight districts despite tough economy

By Howard Buck
Published: February 10, 2010, 12:00am
2 Photos
Vancouver Public Schools Superintendent Steve Webb, left, announces levy results on Tuesday to a crowd of administrators and boosters gathered in a conference room.
Vancouver Public Schools Superintendent Steve Webb, left, announces levy results on Tuesday to a crowd of administrators and boosters gathered in a conference room. The 68 percent levy approval, highest in Clark County, ensures a levy winning streak that now spans 50 years. Photo Gallery

A wave of relief and joy washed over Clark County schools Tuesday night, as preliminary vote returns showed all eight replacement school levy measures passing, despite rocky economic times.

Not every district cracked 60 percent. But each proposed maintenance and operating levy pulled more than 50 percent support, and that’s enough, under simple-majority rules approved statewide by voters in 2007.

The joy beamed in a Vancouver Public Schools conference room, where an emotional Superintendent Steve Webb broke the news shortly after 8 p.m.

“It’s a great day in Vancouver! Sixty-eight percent,” Webb said to applause and happy hoots from administrators and levy supporters.

He said he believes Vancouver’s unbroken string of levies passed since 1964 is unmatched in Washington state.

“It is 50 years of continuous support, as of today,” Webb said. (Tuesday’s result ensures Vancouver will collect levy money through 2014.)

“It’s a testament to the great, good work that’s happening each day in classrooms,” he continued. “That should be a source of pride for everyone in this room and everyone connected to Vancouver Public Schools.”

Battle Ground levy passing

Similar thanks and cheers sounded across the county.

But there was no mistaking the altered dynamic of this election, taken in the teeth of the region’s worst jobs-and-housing crisis in decades.

Anne Giles, Vancouver district teachers’ union representative, reminded educators and boosters how different the night would look without the simple majority rule — a long-sought goal of school boosters that was gained over Clark County voters’ objection (55 to 45 percent in November 2007).

“This would not be all good news, without that,” Giles said. “Thank you for helping pass it, so that we don’t have more haves and have-nots in this county.”

Nowhere was that more true than in Battle Ground, which held a 51.9 percent edge.

The sea change was not overlooked by Evergreen Public Schools leaders who celebrated the more comfortable passage of their own levy measure (at 62 percent) in east Vancouver.

“It’s so great” for Battle Ground,” said Superintendent John Deeder. “I just love the fact they’re going to be able to catch up, and do the things their kids deserve to have.

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“What an amazing show of support by our community for education, all of Southwest Washington,” he said.

Deeder conceded he had sweated out Evergreen’s vote, given the economy: “Ten” on a worry scale of 1-to-10, he said.

School board President Victoria Bradford said voters had appreciated how Evergreen handled recent budget cuts, sparing most teachers and classroom spending while it has shaved costs where possible.

“I think they saw that we were being good stewards with their money, and we deserved the vote,” Bradford said. ‘It was a vote of confidence, all the way.”

The only measure to fail in Clark County was an additional technology levy requested by La Center school officials.

As it was, La Center’s M&O levy garnered 52.6 percent support Tuesday, compared to 63 percent earned by its last levy measure, in 2006.

A sharp drop in assessed home values and rising free-and-reduced lunch rates among La Center students attest to hard times and a hard-pressed electorate, said Superintendent Mark Mansell.

“For the most part, people are supportive of schools. It’s just, the economy is so tough,” Mansell said. “It’s kind of the trend here in north Clark County. It’s tough up here.

“Thank goodness for simple majority,” he said. He said the school board would re-address technology needs, but passage of the main levy was most critical, and most welcome. “That was huge. Now, you focus on learning (again),” he said.

Howard Buck: 360-735-4515 or howard.buck@columbian.com.