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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Battle Ground Public Schools proposes new capital levy on Feb. 13 special election ballot

Tax would support building renovations and tech upgrades

By Griffin Reilly, Columbian staff writer
Published: January 23, 2024, 7:20pm

Battle Ground Public Schools is proposing a new capital levy on the upcoming Feb. 13 special election ballot.

The levy is a new tax intended to support several building renovations and technology replacements across the district that leaders say are in dire need. Other districts in Clark County, including Evergreen and Vancouver, collect similar levies for technology and capital needs.

At an estimated rate of 44 cents per $1,000 assessed property value, the levy is significantly less expensive than the district’s active maintenance and operations levy. The rate also matches a 2005 bond measure that residents finished paying off Dec. 31, 2023.

If the capital levy passes, the district’s combined tax rate would be $2.14 per $1,000 assessed property value, about the same as residents paid in 2023.

Battle Ground Superintendent Denny Waters said aiming the new levy’s rate for 44 cents was intentional, as Battle Ground residents were accustomed to paying that rate.

“What I would say is that we are being very careful not to ask for a lot of wants. What we are trying to focus on is our needs,” Waters said. “We said, ‘We don’t want to raise the taxes, but how much could we raise if we kept that rate?’ ”

The district posted an extensive school-by-school list of all the renovation projects it intends to spend the potential levy funding on, available at www.battlegroundps.org/capital-levy online.

Replacing federal funding

The COVID-19 pandemic presented schools with a catalog of new challenges: providing new personal technology like Chromebooks, helping to provide broadband access in rural areas, responding to new social-emotional needs and more. Many of these new services have been supported in recent years by one-time federal relief funding.

That funding — which amounted to somewhere in the realm of 5 percent of districts’ annual budgets — expired this year. Now, many of these resources supported by the temporary funding are considered key to education.

That issue, Waters said, was another major motivating factor to run the capital levy.

“The life of Chromebooks is right around four years. So we’re always needing to replace those; they’ve become part of our instructional strategy,” Waters said. “Everybody gets used to these things we’ve been doing for a few years, and now the question becomes, ‘How do we keep it going?’ ”

In recent months, Waters said the district conducted research among residents and stakeholders to decide which would be more likely to pass: a levy or a bond. A bond could bring in more money and be repaid over time but requires a 60 percent supermajority to pass. A levy is a short-term ask that only requires a simple majority.

“What we discovered was that they were worried about taxes and the impact of taxes, especially in these tough fiscal times,” Waters said. “For a bond, we were looking at a potential ask of $300 million from our community. Given everything that’s going on, we didn’t think we could make that big of an ask.”

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Keeping up

Another motivating factor for the levy, Waters said, was a need to keep up with other districts both from an educational and infrastructural standpoint.

“We needed to improve our career and technical education programs,” he said. “Our students in culinary programs are at a disadvantage. Our kids are still working out of these old home economics rooms.”

Safety, too, becomes a concern in older buildings.

“Glenwood was built in 1956. Prairie High School was (built) in 1979,” Waters said. “They were designed with a lot of exterior entryways, large windows and things like that. Times have changed. If you go to newer buildings, there’s one main entrance. We needed to invest in making our buildings safer.”

Ballots for the Feb. 13 special election are expected to be mailed no later than Friday. Voters can expect to receive them by Feb. 1.