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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Questions, answers on upcoming Vancouver Public Schools levy

Measure on Feb. 14 ballot projected to raise $271.9M over 4 years

By Griffin Reilly, Columbian staff writer
Published: February 8, 2023, 6:04am

In recent weeks, voters have reached out to The Columbian with a variety of questions about the Vancouver Public Schools replacement education and operations levy on the upcoming Feb. 14 special election ballot.

The levy, which will replace existing levies when they expire at the end of this year and do not represent an additional tax, funds several programs and staff supports in the district that are not funded by the state.

Such levies are common in Washington. In 2020, for example, 289 of the state’s 295 public school districts maintained a local operations levy.

Reader questions range from those asking how tax collections would be allocated to those asking about district programs, both in and out of the classroom; we identified a handful of the most common questions and did our best to answer them.

For more information on the levy, visit Vancouver Public Schools’ webpage dedicated to details and frequently asked questions about the measure at https://vansd.org/levy/. The district also has a program to provide direct answers to community questions through a web-based tool called ThoughtExchange, at https://my.thoughtexchange.com/report/dead0c4f89085232d22ed1bda8da8687/topthoughts.

How will the levy funds be used?

Levy funds are expected to be used for educational enrichments such as transportation, student meals, classroom instruction materials, special education and paraeducator staff, district resource officers, counselors and mental health support staff, nurses and for extracurricular activities such as music, theater arts and athletics.

Vancouver Public Schools provides a breakdown of how levy dollars were used for the 2019-2020 school year — which the district identifies as the last comparable period prior to the COVID-19 pandemic impact — on its website at www.vansd.org/budget.

How much will this cost taxpayers, and how does that compare with the previous levy?

The proposed levy is set at $1.99 per $1,000 assessed property value. That would mean a homeowner with a property assessed at $500,000 would pay $995 in annual taxes toward the levy. Based on current projections, the proposed levy would collect $271.9 million over four years.

In 2019 and 2020, Vancouver voters approved two education and operations levies, both of which expire at the end of 2023. The current rate for the levies is about $1.78 per $1,000 assessed property value.

Those 2019 and 2020 levies were proposed with projections that they would collect a total of $178.9 million before they expired. District officials said the difference between the estimated collections reflects changing district needs and increasing property values within the school district’s boundaries.

This levy on the ballot does not affect a separate six-year technology levy approved in 2019, which will continue collections at a rate of about 30 cents per $1,000 assessed value through 2025. It also does not include an ongoing 2017 school construction bond tax currently charging about $1.42 per $1,000 assessed value.

Why is the levy only spreading collections over four years?

Washington law says local education and operations levies can only be sought for periods of one to six years. This allows for districts to adjust funding requests amid economic fluctuations.

“We have found historically three- to four-year levies are the best balance between enough time to implement programs, hire staff and provide stability without overextending and finding our funding is no longer matched to current costs and demands,” said district spokesperson Jessica Roberts.

Can you share more details on what “school safety supports” and “family-community resource centers” are?

“School safety support” refers to security systems and staff in district buildings. This includes security cameras, building access systems and visitor management systems. Vancouver also uses levy funding to staff each of its 36 school buildings with at least one district resource officer at any given time. The state only provides enough funding for 3.7 safety staff members for the entire district.

Family-Community Resource centers are small facilities located throughout the district that help provide supplies for families in need, from clothing to food to services like job search assistance and early childhood education. Nearby districts such as Evergreen, Ridgefield, Camas and others have similar centers. The facilities are 100 percent funded by the levy. More information on the impact of the centers can be found at https://tinyurl.com/2mhkj7vh.

Does this levy fund programs like critical race theory and comprehensive sex education?

No. The levy, pass or fail, does not have any effect on state learning requirements.

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There is no state-mandated “critical race theory” taught in Washington public schools, and Vancouver does not utilize such a curriculum at any level. The district’s comprehensive health program (not known as “comprehensive sex education”) uses state funding and adheres to state curriculum.

For more information on learning standards and employed curricula in health and physical education in Vancouver Public Schools, visit the district’s website at https://vansd.org/health-and-physical-education/.

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