Let’s start with the Voters Pamphlet Pro/Con/Rebuttal statements from the Clark County Elections website: Battle Ground School District No. 119 – Proposition No. 7 – Capital Levy for Safety, Facility and Technology Improvements.pdf (wa.gov)
Each school district also gets money for new construction. This link shows each. Battle Ground gets $10,760. school impact fees.pdf (wa.gov)
It’s levy time…for a new levy for Battle Ground. It’s called a Capital Levy. You have been used to them asking for an EP&O Levy (it’s for maintenance and operations expenses). This time around they need more money for maintenance type items and are taking a new approach.
In the past when a district needed money for BIG projects they proposed a Capital Bond. What’s a Capital bond? It’s a request that goes before voters and needs a 60% approval rate to pass. On the other hand Levy’s only need 50% +1 to pass. Given the past history of Bond failures the board of directors has chosen to take a page from the playbook of some other districts and use a legal path to fund raising called a Capital Levy.
Bonds are normally financed over a 20-30 year period. Bond money is used for building new schools, doing major renovations, roofing, HVAC system and similar big ticket items that will last for decades.
Levies are intended to fill short term operational needs. After the McCleary decision requiring the State to “fully fund” districts a new interpretation of Levy’s was created. Now you can use a Levy to ask for money for capital projects. This has already been done locally (Camas is asking for a Capital Levy in February 2024 (Camas School District – 2024 Levy’s – Review (swweducation.org)). Note: It appears that there is a new CTE building in this budget…shouldn’t that be under a Capital Bond and not a levy?
Why has the school board chosen to ask for a Capital Levy? Because they fear that asking for a Bond would fail (remember it needs 60% to pass) and go for a Levy (which takes 50% +1 to pass) based on the voters pamphlet. It appears they want to make it as simple to pass as possible.
Is there anything wrong with using a Capital Levy approach? Others have done it. They believe they need the money. The money will be used: “for making District-wide safety, facility and technology improvements (upgrading security, including cameras and entry controls; repairing roofs; improving heating/cooling; upgrading lighting and technology; creating learning spaces for construction trades, culinary, health sciences)”
Looking at the laundry list of proposed fund uses many (if not most) are projects that will have useful lifetimes of decades. Normally you would use long-term financing for those projects and reserve short term money need for maintenance and operations…unless you don’t have it.
The school board approved a new teachers contract this year (wage increases for the contract north of 15%) and have used some of their reserve funds to help cover the additional costs. That’s money that could have been used for capital (long-term) projects that is now gone.
When you read the Pro statement you will see that the Capital Bond was retired at the end of 2023. They are saying that by approving this new Capital Levy, and the retirement of the old Bond, you won’t pay any more. One will wash out the other.
So this new Capital Levy totals $27.7 million in new taxes. The cost per household is based on the assessed value. In Clark County it appears that the median value (1/2 above and ½ below) is around $675,000 (Clark County, WA (altos.re)). Using their projected tax rate for the Capital Levy of $0.44/$1000 of assessed value that median home would pay about $297. With the Bond retirement it would appear that any change should be little to none…for the 3 years.
Note: They are using the “rate” to deflect attention from the amount of money. Anytime a district talks about the “rate per $1000 of assessed value” they don’t want you looking at the real point…the money. Rates go down if property values go up and visa versa. Look at the $$.
However…several questions come to mind:
- Will this Capital Levy be a 1x occurrence or will it stay with us forever? (It’s hard to let go of an approved funding source once you have it…just look at the Washinton State Legislature)
- When will the district ask for a new Capital Bond? To be clear it’s not if it’s a question of when. The district needs to replace some schools/buildings. That’s a known truth. Costs to build schools to meet current standards are well over $500 per sq/ft. A campus sufficient to handle 600 students would need to be around 106,000 sq/ft. At $500/sq/ft = $53 million. Costs could easily be higher. So, depending on what they would propose down the road a new Bond for $250 million or more is entirely possible.
- Should we even worry about a future Bond? If we want to be fiscally responsible and plan ahead…yes. Ask the board what their plans are.
- The current maintenance levy is ~$115 million for 4 years. Why isn’t there money from that fund to pay for these improvements? Where does the money go?
If they say there is no likelihood of a new Bond for X years that would be good to know.
The school board has been trying hard to contain costs and manage efficiently. Do they need to money? It appears so. Will the costs be flat with this Capital Levy? Probably. Taking the Capital Levy path (50% +1 to pass) is a good strategic move…but a little shady. One would hope they could explain to the public what’s needed and make a case rather than taking this path.
It’s worth noting that the student population has been declining for several years as more students are moved to home schooling or private schools. The cost per student in Washington State is approaching $20,000/student/year. Private schools in Clark County run less than $10,000 per year. Public education is 2x the cost of private. How long can that go on? If parents had the choice of choosing public, private or home schooled (money follows the student) what would happen?
Battle Ground says they expect a slight growth in the number of students over the next 10 years. The number of children per household in new construction as continued to drop and is now approaching 2/10ths of 1 student (0.2). That means that for every 1000 new apartments/houses the district MAY get about 20 new students. As the enrollment declines the districts get less money from the State with more burden falling on the taxpayers.
Side Note: Under the Growth Management Act in Washington State there is an emphasis in high density dwellings with minimization of rural development. The expansion of new residences has limited potential in north county due to lack of services, poor percolation for septic systems, impact on waterhseds and more. Thus the development growth will be on the lower end.
As we finish you way want to take a look at hard data on student performance and other metrics that come straight from OSPI (State Superintendent). This may help you determine whether you are getting your monies worth.
Battle Ground data: Report Card – Washington State Report Card (ospi.k12.wa.us)
Battle Ground (swweducation.org) there are 13 articles about Battle Ground including past levies and bonds.
Should you vote yes or no? Make the decision based on facts and data. What can you afford? Are you satisfied with the return on the investment? Is this a head or heart decision?