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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

In Our View: Support levy for Evergreen Public Schools

The Columbian
Published: April 21, 2022, 6:03am

After two years of pandemic-fueled disruption, students are in need of assistance. Emotional support, extracurricular activities and a broad range of programs are essential to make up for learning loss and to help students get on track for graduation and beyond.

Because of that, The Columbian Editorial Board recommends that voters support a replacement levy for Evergreen Public Schools. Ballots were mailed April 8 and must be postmarked by Tuesday — no postage is required — or dropped off at official ballot boxes by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

As always, this is merely a recommendation designed to foster discussion. The Editorial Board encourages voters to become informed about what would be supported by the levy — and what would not — before making an informed decision. In an age of rampant misinformation, it is easy for uninformed voters to be misled about ballot measures.

“It’s not CRT (Critical Race Theory),” Victoria Bradford, a 23-year member of the Evergreen school board, told the Editorial Board. “It’s not sex ed; that is state-mandated and does not come out of the levy.”

Critical Race Theory is not taught in Evergreen schools. It is a college-level concept for looking at American history through a lens of systemic racism, but critics have inaccurately insisted that it is being taught in public schools. And comprehensive, age-appropriate sex education was mandated by the Legislature in 2020; it will remain in the curriculum and was supported by 58 percent of statewide voters.

Neither controversial issue has anything to do with the levy on Tuesday’s ballot, but propaganda claiming otherwise is being used to influence voters. That reflects the importance of understanding what the levy actually does.

As described in the title of the ballot measure, Proposition No. 6 would replace an expiring levy that pays for support staff; it is not a new tax.

District leaders say failure would lead to the elimination or reduction of athletic programs at the middle-school level; music programs; school nurses, secretaries and counselors; security officers; field trips; and various other extracurricular programs.

“Our most vulnerable kids will not be receiving all the programs they need,” Bradford said. “Programs that we have valued for years and years are not going to be supported.”

In February, a similar replacement levy was defeated with 57 percent of the vote. Officials listened to voters in formulating a new proposal. The previous measure had tax rates that increased annually; this proposal will retain a flat rate over a three-year span.

Acting Superintendent John Boyd said: “We understand because people are being asked to tighten their belts, we’re going to tighten, as well.”

Boyd said that because of declining districtwide enrollment — which impacts federal and state funding — about 100 positions will be cut for next school year if the levy passes. Without passage, more than 200 positions will be eliminated.

Voters must decide whether district officials are good stewards of public money. In recent years, two superintendents have been fired and have received large severance payments. And in 2018, statewide strikes led to large pay raises for teachers, including in Evergreen.

That can generate concern among voters. But when considering the replacement levy, voters should focus on what is best for students and the benefits that come with support programs.

The Columbian Editorial Board recommends a vote in favor of the Evergreen replacement levy.