BATTLE GROUND — Dozens of students, parents and teachers took to the streets after school Wednesday to voice support for the upcoming replacement levy vote.
The march, referred to as the “March to the Middle,” prioritized the voices of students in a conversation that’s primarily focused on parents and educators thus far.
“The levy funding helps provide a wide variety of classes and extracurriculars,” said Sarah Shoote, a student at Battle Ground High School. “That’s something that I really value here at school.”
The four-year levy — which failed in the Feb. 9 special election with 52.42 percent of ballots marked “no” — would replace the levy set to expire at the end of this year. The proposed levy features available funding for everything from building security to mental health services to sports.
Teachers and union representatives in Battle Ground Public Schools maintain that the replacement levy isn’t intended to raise wages for teachers — something they say is a common misconception.
“The levy helps alleviate pressure, it’s not all about teachers,” said Curtis Crebar, president of the Battle Ground Education Association, the union that represents a majority of teachers in the district. “This is a community investment in education.”
About the levy
Battle Ground Superintendent Denny Waters refers to a levy failure as his “3:15.”
“That means it’s when I wake up every morning at 3:15 and think ‘What’s going to happen if this fails?’ ” Waters said. “It would be a catastrophe.”
If the replacement levy fails again, teachers say students will lose the opportunity to take a number of electives and Advanced Placement classes, in addition to essential items such as textbooks and learning materials that were scarce to begin with.
Battle Ground, however, is no stranger to failed levies. The last double levy failure was in 2006.
Waters, who had a daughter in the district then, recalled students placing buckets on tables to deal with roof leaks in 2007 that couldn’t be addressed due to the levy failure.
Some of the pushback Waters hears from community members about the levy is raising taxes.
As it stands, the tax rate per $1,000 of assessed property value under the current levy is $2.32, while the projected tax rate under the replacement levy is $1.99 per $1,000 of assessed property value in 2022, according to the school district.
District officials say Battle Ground residents pay the lowest K-12 tax rate in Clark County.
“The levy accommodates the physical growth of the district,” said Crebar, the education association president. “Good property value comes with good schools.”
Some residents say they don’t want to fund curricula such as critical race theory, which has been at the center of national conversations around education. However, critical race theory is not being implemented in Battle Ground Public Schools — with or without the replacement levy, Waters said.
Wednesday’s marchers said the replacement levy is more than flashy add-ons for schools; it funds critical programs that hold the district together.
The replacement levy allows for at least 16 psychologist positions throughout the district. Battle Ground recently started phasing in Social-Emotional Learning Centers in its middle schools, where students can speak with counselors and psychologists to work out behavioral issues in the classroom, as an alternative to disciplinary measures. Without the levy, Waters said the planned expansion for those centers would be eliminated.
“I couldn’t imagine not having counseling in our schools,” Waters said. “That scares me.”
With students back in the classroom following the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, these services — that focus on mental health and counseling — are more important than ever, said Terry Dotson, president of Battle Ground Citizens for Better Schools.
Dotson said his grandson has struggled with returning to school after the long period of isolation caused by the pandemic.
“Kids have become more reclusive,” Dotson said. “There are days that I just can’t get him to go to school.”
A renewed movement
When the replacement levy failed at the ballot box in February, the vast majority of students weren’t in schools at the time. Dotson said he feels that’s likely the reason it didn’t garner enough support.
Now that in-person learning has returned, the movement to raise levy support has grown exponentially. Hundreds of parents and teachers have launched flyer distribution and door-to-door campaigns pleading with their neighbors to vote yes.
William Baur, a science teacher at River HomeLink and father of two in the district, has knocked on more than 200 doors in October alone. At every door, he leaves a note voicing his concern for his children.
“I have been a teacher for 12 years, yet my job will be at risk if the levy fails,” Baur said. “I have already been involuntarily transferred twice this year because the school district can’t afford to hire new teachers to fill open positions at my school.”
In addition to leading the march, students are finding ways to get the word out. Ricardo Martin Del Campo, a junior representative of the school board and a junior at Prairie High School, said he doesn’t want to lose programs such as band and drama.
“There actually has been multiple studies about how playing an instrument benefits students educationally,” Del Campo said. “Not only that but students have a safe place and a community to go to that would support and help them no matter what.”
With about two weeks until the Nov. 2 special election, Del Campo and his fellow junior representative, Sydney Cordon, created an Instagram account to garner support among younger populations. They hope it encourages voter-age students to register, if they haven’t already.