While the 3rd Congressional District is sure to attract the spotlight in the upcoming Aug. 2 primary, funding measures in La Center and Ridgefield hold considerable weight for public schools in the north end of the county.
Both school districts are running three-year replacement operations levies, each of which would renew measures that expire at the end of this year.
For Ridgefield, the levy amounts to 13 percent of the district’s annual budget. Officials are asking voters to support the collection of an estimated $1.50 per $1,000 assessed property value — a rate that’s among the lowest in Clark County. If approved, the levy would collect about $9,054,000 in 2023, $10,412,000 in 2024 and $11,611,000 in 2025.
The levy proceeds fund programs and positions that the state doesn’t fully provide, such as counseling and nursing services, athletics and a variety of extracurriculars and electives — a catalog of resources that Superintendent Nathan McCann labeled as “everything that adds enrichment and creates memories.”
The replacement levy is different from the capital facilities bond that Ridgefield ran unsuccessfully in February and April of this year. It would have funded school construction projects to cope with local population growth.
“Bonds are for buildings; levies are for learning,” said school board President Joe Vance.
La Center’s levy proposal would also maintain an estimated $1.50 per $1,000 assessed property value. The measure, which funds those same services and extracurricular programs not funded by the state, previously failed on Feb. 8.
Officials from each district have mixed feelings about running such important measures on a crowded ballot, as well as so close to the December expiration of their active levies.
“Generally, schools don’t like running levies in August. But again, I don’t care when we run it, it’s vital to the programming that we provide,” said Vance, echoing a sense of pride for schools that he said defines Ridgefield’s community.
“You should be able to run it on Christmas Day,” added McCann. “This is the investment in schools that make Ridgefield who we are and who we expect to be.”
La Center Superintendent Peter Rosenkranz — who describes his current state of mind as “cautiously optimistic” — said the measure’s inclusion on a major election ballot might actually increase its chances of passing.
“We usually get twice the turnout on a primary of this magnitude — I think we’ll actually get more voters than we did in February,” said Rosenkranz.
A growing sense of frustration
In recent years, local school districts — particularly in the north end — have required multiple attempts to pass levies and bonds. Officials chalk up the struggles to rising inflation, economic duress amid the COVID-19 pandemic, rising rental and property costs and more.
La Center’s Rosenkranz didn’t hold back when he outlined the pressure that’s put on his community and others to ask voters for additional money time and time again.
“It’s gotten absolutely more stressful to pass (levies and bonds),” he said. “The state says they fully fund education, but then they don’t. For example, I’m provided with 0.4 nurses with state funding — we have three buildings in the district.”
Without levy support, most districts in Clark County would have to significantly cut athletics, including almost entirely at the middle school level.
“Activities and athletics aren’t just add-ons, they’re things that help stress management, too,” Rosenkranz said. “Team building, lifelong friendships, accomplishments, problem-solving. Those are all very important resources and opportunities for students.”
Ridgefield officials said they felt the same — and added that the reality of what education without levies looks like isn’t at all viable.
“It’s impossible to provide an education without a levy based on what the state provides,” said Vance. “You could do that, strip it down to the bare bones, but I guarantee you the parents and families in the community would not be OK with that.”
“It would be unacceptable, you’d have a shell of a district,” echoed McCann.
Both districts’ leaders, however, said they’re sympathetic for voters stressed about paying taxes while the price of everything else is rising.
“I really am optimistic,” said Rosenkranz. “But with everything going on now and in the last few years, our families have been hit hard. My heart is here with these people, my costs are going up, too. But we’re committed to keeping our rate at $1.50.”