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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Camas replacement levy backers make case ahead of vote

Investments benefit all, advocates note; election is Feb. 13

By Kelly Moyer, Camas-Washougal Post-Record
Published: January 27, 2024, 6:03am

CAMAS — Camas School District voters will decide the fate of two replacement levies that account for approximately 15 percent of the school district’s annual revenues.

Advocates for the levies, which will be decided in the Feb. 13 special election, say voting yes on both the educational programs and operations levy and the capital levy for educational technology, health and safety will ensure that Camas students can learn in well-maintained buildings, have access to current technology and receive an education that goes beyond what is funded by the state and other governmental resources.

“Voting ‘yes’ bridges the gap between state and federal funding, which only finances a very generalized, basic K-12 standard, to one which provides an exceptional educational experience for Camas students … (and) ensures Camas schools, classrooms and facilities stay safe, warm and dry,” Patrick Hennessey and Mark Klein, co-chairs of the Camas Citizens for Quality Schools group, said in pro-levy statements in the voter’s guide.

The levy investments, Hennessey and Klein added, are “reasonable and valuable” and will benefit the entire Camas community.

Camas voters have long supported school levies. Election results dating back to 2000 show that, before 2021 — when levy support dipped to 53 percent for the educational programs and operations levy and 56 percent for the educational technology, health and safety levy — the support for the district’s replacement levies ranged from 61 percent in 2010 to 68 percent for operations and 69 percent for health and safety in 2017.

Hennessey said Vote Yes Camas members believe the COVID-19 pandemic and related public health mandates that kept students in a mix of remote and hybrid classes for more than a year had an impact on the 2021 levy vote.

“School was out, and voters may have felt that, until kids were back in school … maybe there was less funding needed,” he said.

Levy supporters are concentrating on promoting the levies’ benefits for Camas students, pushing for higher voter turnout and focusing on the fact that the levies are not new or even increased taxes for Camas residents.

“This is not a new tax or a new estimated rate,” Hennessey said. “This is just keeping the same operations.”

If approved, the replacement levies would continue to cost Camas property owners $1.82 per $1,000 assessed property value for the operations levy and 39 cents per $1,000 for the capital levy — a combined cost of $2.21 per $1,000.

An owner of a home with an assessed value of $500,000 would pay $92 a month from 2025 through 2028.

The school district estimates that the replacement levies would bring the district $23.28 million in 2025, growing to $25.44 million in 2028.

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If the levies were to fail, the district has said, the programs and positions funded by the levies would face elimination or heavy cuts, including teaching positions, classroom support, sports, music, art, counseling, safety and nursing.

“This levy allows a nurse at practically every school,” Hennessey said. “Without the levy funding, we would have about four nurses for the entire district.”

Vote Yes Camas supporters know they may have to counter misinformation, Hennessey said, but the group hasn’t found any local opposition or messaging it needs to counter.

The opposition statements published in the Clark County Voters’ Guide, Hennessey said, came from Jeff Heckathorn, a Snohomish County resident who reportedly has penned dozens of statements against school levies in Washington Voters’ Guides over the past two years.

“Most traditional public schools in (Washington) are spendthrifts,” Heckathorn wrote. “More money, same poor results. It doesn’t matter how much money they are given. They always seem to need/want more.”

Getting out the vote

Camas Citizens for Quality Schools will be trying to get information out to the public in the coming weeks, ahead of Election Day. Ballots should arrive in Camas mailboxes by Feb. 1. More information about the special election and voter registration can be found at columbian.com/elections.

Superintendent John Anzalone — who replaced longtime Superintendent Jeff Snell in July 2022 — said the levy dollars are critical.

Anzalone said 24 percent ($4.6 million) of the operations levy funds help pay for certificated positions; 12 percent ($2.36 million) goes to special education programs; 10 percent ($1.9 million) pays for supplemental certificated contracts; 10 percent ($1.86 million) funds classified staff positions; 9 percent ($1.63 million) pays for athletics and extracurricular programs; 7 percent ($1.39 million) pays for staff development; 7 percent ($1.29 million) helps fund central administration staff; 6 percent ($1.2 million) helps pay for principals; and the remainder — around $2.8 million in total — helps the district pay for substitute teachers as well as food service and student transportation needs.

The health and safety levy, if approved, is expected to bring in about $17 million from 2025 through 2028. It would fund “computer hardware and software, technology infrastructure, program licenses and agreements, roofing replacements on aging CSD facilities, boiler and HVAC upgrades and replacements, (and) safety and security.”

“What may look like a small piece of the pie is not,” Anzalone said.

For more information on the school district, visit camas.wednet.edu.