Tuesday, March 21, 2023
March 21, 2023

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Evergreen Public Schools’ levy passing, Ridgefield bond failing

By , Columbian staff writer

Initial results from Tuesday’s special election are showing mixed results for schools in Clark County.

Evergreen Public Schools’ replacement operations and maintenance levy was passing as of Tuesday night, with 50.66 percent voting to approve. The three-year levy will replace the district’s current levy when it expires in December; collections would begin in 2023. A simple majority is required to pass.

Evergreen ran a levy on Feb. 8, which failed in rather dramatic fashion with just 42.85 voting to approve. In an effort to meet voters halfway, district officials tweaked the measure to lower its three-year tax rate.

If it continues to pass, the levy will cost Evergreen voters an estimated $1.70 per $1,000 of assessed value for all three years, the same tax rate that those living within district boundaries are currently paying.

When coupled with a previously approved bond measure and technology levy, which are due to sunset, it would lower the current local school tax rate from $3.79 per $1,000 of assessed property value to a projected $3.68 in 2023, $3.48 in 2024 and $3.48 in 2025.

As with Evergreen’s current levy, the proposed replacement provides additional funding for critical health resources and staffing, including counselors and nurses. Although funding was improved by a recently passed bill in the Washington state Legislature, district officials say the state still doesn’t pay for positions that aid students’ mental health. The levy also provides funding for elective classes and extracurricular activities like music, theater and athletics.

“It’s much improved from the last time we went out,” interim Superintendent John Boyd said Tuesday night. “I couldn’t be happier that our citizens are supporting schools at this higher level. It is close, but we’re optimistic. We feel like we’re in a good place.”

In Ridgefield, another failure likely

The Ridgefield School District’s proposed general obligation bond is failing, with only 56.52 percent voting to approve as of Tuesday night. If it does indeed fail, it would be the fifth time since 2019.

The $62.6 million bond measure — which requires a 60 percent supermajority to pass — would fund the construction of a new elementary school and expansion at Ridgefield High School. Ridgefield’s population has grown intensely over the last decade and is anticipated to continue.

On Feb. 8, 57.5 percent voted to approve. District officials and proponents of the bond have argued that if they wait longer, building facilities will only grow more expensive and it will no longer be possible for construction to be finished in time for fall 2023.

“We’re pretty disappointed. At this point we aren’t feeling too optimistic,” said Joe Vajgrt, a spokesperson for the district. “We’re still very grateful for the support we did receive. That 60 percent supermajority is a tough hurdle.”

Superintendent Nathan McCann has spent recent weeks discussing potential contingency plans for dealing with future overcrowding if the bond does indeed fail. Plans include redrawing school attendance boundaries, adjusting elementary schedules, converting extracurricular spaces into additional classrooms and even moving to a year-round attendance model.

Vajgrt couldn’t say what the district might look to in the coming years to combat overcrowding as an alternative to the bond.

“Quite frankly, there are no easy solutions. This is going to pose challenges for not only parents and students but staff as well.”

As of Tuesday night, 27,559 votes had been counted — amounting to just 24.66 percent of registered voters.

Votes will continue to be counted and updated in The Columbian in the coming days. Results are due to be certified May 6.