Parents and community members lined street corners and roundabouts in Ridgefield on Friday to raise awareness for a bond measure on February’s special election ballot.
Voters in the district will decide on the Ridgefield School District’s proposed general obligation bond: a $62.5 million project to fund the construction of a new elementary school and the expansion of Ridgefield High School.
Ballots were mailed out to voters throughout Clark County on Friday for the upcoming Feb. 8 election. Headlining the election are a number of local measures — the majority of which are bonds and levies for the various school districts across the county.
The Ridgefield bond requires a 60 percent supermajority in order to pass — a goal that failed before voters twice in 2020.
Georgianna Jones, a campaign manager at Citizens for Ridgefield Schools, a coalition of community members pushing to pass the bond, says the previous failures weren’t a huge surprise.
“We knew the timing wasn’t the best, but the needs were so great,” said Jones. “But it would’ve been irresponsible for the board not to put the bond up, we had no choice.”
For many Ridgefield residents, however, the bond is more than a simple expansion project.
“It’s been an issue for a long time. This is our third go at it,” said Jones. “We’re at a bit of a breaking point; Sunset Ridge and South Ridge, we grew out of those schools in a year,” she said.
Census data shows that Ridgefield’s population has more than doubled in the last decade, from 4,763 residents in 2010 to 10,319 in 2020.
The average elementary school enrollment in Ridgefield is 686 students, compared with just 490 in Vancouver and 520 in Evergreen. Schools throughout the district have resorted to temporary solutions for years now, such as filling parking lots with portable classrooms.
“If our schools are going to remain one of Ridgefield’s greatest assets, then the community needs to come together to support this bond,” said Ridgefield School Board President Joe Vance in November. If voters approve the bond, collections would begin in 2023 at a projected rate of $3.44 per $1,000 assessed value. The district projects that for the median home value in Ridgefield of $562,000, property owners would pay approximately $140.50 to support the bond.
The proposed 75,000-square-foot K-four elementary school — set to be located at 7025 N. 10th St. — is aimed to alleviate overcrowding due to the district’s population boom, they said. It would open as a K-six school in fall of 2023 to ease the transition between grades.
The 18,000-square-foot expansion to Ridgefield High School would also provide new classrooms and lab and shop space for the district’s Career and Technical Education program.
Levies critical across Clark County
In the past, February elections have failed to garner major turnout — a trend that’s led to a number of notable levy failures in recent years.
Voter turnout for three school measures in February 2021 amounted to just over 39 percent — an election that saw a levy failure for Battle Ground Public Schools.
Perhaps the biggest measure at stake is Evergreen Public School’s replacement educational programs and operational levy. The three-year levy funds a number of school programs and critical positions not funded by the state, including school nurses, mental health counselors and paraeducators working in special education.
The current levy is set to expire at the end of 2022.
The funding also helps to maintain a variety of elective classes and extracurricular activities including performing arts and athletics.
The estimated rate for Evergreen’s proposed replacement levy is set at $1.92 per $1,000 assessed value in 2023, after which it will increased to $2.12 per $1,000 assessed value in 2024 and 2025.
The district’s previous levy cost residents $1.50 per $1,000 assessed value in 2020 through 2022.
Evergreen, the largest school district in Clark County, also maintains a facilities bond and technology levy — other community-funded programs to continue district building projects and the necessary technological infrastructure not provided by state dollars.
If approved, property owners in the district can expect to continue paying a total of $3.89 per $1,000 value in taxes to the district over the next three years — the same that they’re paying now.
Smaller districts, higher stakes
The Hockinson School District faces its own replacement levy, as well — a four-year levy funding similar programs as those required in Evergreen.
The levy will cost voters an estimated $1.89 per $1,000 assessed value. The current levy, which provides about 11 percent of the district’s operating budget, is set to expire on Dec. 31.
In a virtual information session for the levy on Tuesday, district officials referred to local levies and bonds as a “continuing fact of life in Washington’s public schools.” In addition to furthering the importance for what this particular levy votes, they took time to examine a state formula for student-to-staff ratios first developed in 1975 — an outdated model that now funds just fractions of crucial positions like psychologists, nurses and security staff.
As highlighted in Battle Ground’s fight to pass their own replacement levy in November, Hockinson officials hammered home the message that state funding for less than one nurse and school psychologist across the district is not viable for modern education.
Voters within the boundaries of the Green Mountain School District, the La Center School District and the Mount Pleasant School District will each also decide on similar maintenance and operations levies by Feb. 8.
More information on the ballot and how to submit it is available on the Clark County elections website.