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May 13, 2021

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Green Mountain School District repair, upgrade list prompts levy vote

One-school district wants to preserve history while tackling much-needed projects

By , Columbian Staff Writer
Published:
9 Photos
Kindergartner Piper Caseday runs down the ramp for recess at Green Mountain School.
Kindergartner Piper Caseday runs down the ramp for recess at Green Mountain School. (Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

WOODLAND — When Rick Syring attended Green Mountain School from 1956 to 1962, it was a one-school district tucked deep in a tree-filled dead end road outside of Woodland.

Now, the district is, well, still a one-school district tucked deep in a tree-filled dead end road outside of Woodland.

Syring has been on the district’s school board for 30 years, spending the last 10-plus as the board chairman. While some things are the same in Green Mountain, plenty has changed. For example, the school has nine teachers now. Green Mountain previously had only two teachers — a married couple — who lived in the district’s cottage just a short stroll from the school.

The Green Mountain School, which opened in 1932, is in need of some repairs and upgrades. The last major renovation was done in 1996, when the interior of the school was completely renovated, forcing students off campus for an entire school year.

To make those upgrades, Green Mountain School District is turning to district residents for help in the form of a capital levy in the Nov. 6 election to modernize, renovate and improve the district. The levy requires a simple majority of 50 percent plus one vote to pass.

If approved, the district would receive $1.25 million spread out evenly to $250,000 a year for five years. The district projects that the levy rate will be $1.35 per $1,000 of assessed property value in the first year, $1.23 per $1,000 of assessed value in the second year, $1.12 per per $1,000 of assessed value in year three, $1.01 per $1,000 of assessed value in the fourth year and 93 cents per $1,000 of assessed value in the final year.

The money will be used for a variety of projects, according to Superintendent Tyson Vogeler, such as improving safety, improving the heating and cooling system, upgrading restrooms and flooring and undertaking a complete renovation of the cottage.

The cottage is used as a classroom, but the foundation needs some work, as the floor is sloped. It’s so close to the road that the district can’t knock it down and build a new one in the same spot, because a new building wouldn’t be grandfathered in to its current location.

“We also don’t want to lose our history,” Vogeler said. “It’s important to our community to preserve as much as we can. People want that sense of history.”

That’s just one of the difficulties facing the K-8 district, which has 164 students this year, close to the district’s max, according to Vogeler. One of the other projects the district will use the levy money for is to fill in a retention pond and build a covered play area. A covered play area will allow the school to move kids out of the building, allowing a fourth lunch period and the opportunity to allow more students overall.

“What caps enrollment is the cafeteria size,” Vogeler said. “If we can get kids outside for recess, that would clear up some space.”

The cafeteria fits around 60 kids for each lunch period. Because of the limited kitchen size, the school’s food is prepared at Amboy Middle School and brought over to the school and heated up every day. A grant from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction allowed the school to buy a cooler last year, which means it can now serve breakfast each day since there’s somewhere to keep breakfast foods overnight.

McCleary legislation

Another issue for the district is the McCleary legislation, which last year saw the state award $7.3 billion in new school funding to be spread across four years, followed by another $1 billion this year for teacher salaries. In August, Vogeler said Green Mountain could lose money in the deal when factoring in the loss in local levy dollars. Green Mountain received about $3,400 per student through levy money this past school year, and is projecting a loss of about 50 percent of local levy dollars after McCleary.

Syring said district officials have been talking about capital projects the last two-plus years before opting to run the levy vote.

“The McCleary decision solidified it,” he said. “We don’t have the flexibility with our general fund anymore.”

Vogeler said if the district receives an influx of cash for any reason, district officials could opt to not collect the levy, should voters approve it.

“We try to stretch out money to not burden our taxpayers,” Vogeler said.

With such a small district, Green Mountain officials have to be thrifty, which leaves the district acting as a sort of Frankenstein for nearby school districts. The school has three portable buildings, all of which came used from Ridgefield and La Center. Green Mountain only had to pay to move the portables. The school is also filled with desks from Camas, smartboards from Longview, stage curtains from La Center and a smaller bus from Waterville. Some of those items Green Mountain purchased — such as the school bus, which was declared surplus and Green Mountain purchased for $3,500– while others were given to the district.

The district has 20 employees, and everyone pitches in where they can. The cafeteria workers start their mornings as the district’s bus drivers. Some district employees had a good laugh earlier this year when security cameras caught Vogeler plowing the parking lot after a particularly heavy snowfall.

“I’ve found myself in the engine compartments of buses,” he said. “You have to wear multiple hats in a district like this.”

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