This is a re-post of the story written by The Reflector or their January 25th edition. This is provided so our readers are exposed to all points of view. The reporter is Jonathan Haukaas (email@example.com) We have added some comments and questions inline.
District Superintendent says failure to pass M&O levy would be devastating both now and years to come
On Feb. 14, residents within the Battle Ground School District will be asked to vote for a replacement educational programs, maintenance and operations (M&O) levy.
In early December, the Battle Ground Public Schools Board of Directors approved the levy to go before voters with a 3-2 vote.
The process leading up to the levy has been virtually the same as that leading up to the bond: familiar faces of opposition and support; the recycled discussion of inadequate state funding and many yards in the region with “Vote Yes” for the bond switching them out for “Vote Yes” to the levy.
The only unfamiliar aspect came earlier this month when Clark County’s property assessor became concerned with how the district was presenting information surrounding the levy.
Peter Van Nortwick, assessor since 2010 and a resident of the Battle Ground School District, took issue with Superintendent Mark Hottowe indicating to the The Columbian newspaper that if the levy passed, it would not raise taxes.
“He (Hottowe) had indicated that there was no tax increase, and that was absolutely incorrect,” he said.
Van Nortwick believes that more of the focus should be put on the dollar amount, and not just the district’s predicted millage rate. He felt that by the district saying that it wasn’t a new tax, it insinuates it would not be an increase in taxes either.
Whether or not the assessed value goes up or down, Van Nortwick added, the lump sum of money being raised from district residents will still be the same.
“You cannot collect four million more dollars from the same people, one year later, and not have people’s taxes go up. (It’s) absolutely a tax increase,” he said.
Van Nortwick also pointed to the fact that in 2017 the tax rate is actually $3.32 per $1,000, to show that the district’s predictions, $3.66, are already off and that it would be near impossible to accurately predict how assessed value will fluctuate over the next four years. [Comment: If the County Assessor had not commented we would have gotten the “no tax increase” and stable millage rate comments. Is that honest?]
But Assistant Superintendent of Finance & School Operations for BGPS MaryBeth Lynn sees it differently. Although she agrees that there is no way to tell exactly what the millage rate will be over the next four years, the information the district is providing is intended to give voters a look at how it will affect their taxes, based on past years. Furthermore, she explained that they have been completely transparent about the total dollar amount going up, citing the literature that was sent to voters and available online. [Comment: It’s impossible for the $3.66 per $1000 of assessed value to hold constant over the 4 years. It’s being used to try to give people the impression the impact on them will be negligible when it’s impossible to accurately predict]
The district feels the numbers are fair and consistent with growth.
“Just this (last) year the growth in the district was 14.5 percent, and that was both assessed value plus new construction,” said Lynn, adding that over the last four years the growth has averaged around 8.5 percent. [Comment: What does growth refer to? Number of households? Number of residents? Number of students? This implies growth means more cost to schools but that may not be true. We thought the average was around 5%]
Lynn went on to say that the last levy rate was conservative, and growth was quick to exceed it. They had predicted that 2016 would be $4.51, but when it finally rolled around, it was $3.66. [Comment: But the amount of money they collected – $103.3 million – which was a 20% increase from the prior levy – remained the same regardless of property value]
“We were blown out of the water with all the new growth,” she said. [Comment: But where were the students? In the prior 5 years the total increase in the number of students was ~135 which works out to about 27 more students per year. Would you be “blown out of the water” by that growth?]
As to why the first year on the levy would go up 16.2 percent, before balancing out at around 5 percent for the next three years, Lynn said, “the first leap is to kinda make up for the shortfall of the previous few years.” [Comment: So voters has said no in the past to larger levy’s making it clear they didn’t want to spend more yet the district wants to “make up for the shortfall”? Really? So the voters wishes mean nothing?]
Increases in retirement, employee salary and fuel were a few of the items she named. [Comment: Is there a breakdown?]
“This kinda gets us back on an even keel — then I think we’re looking at a conservative, I think, growth in coming years,” she said. [Comment: So they wanted more money, couldn’t get it and are now going to make up for it?]
In regard to Van Nortwick’s comments and the meeting they had with him, the district said that going forward, during information forums, they will be certain to clarify that the total dollar amount is rising, as the literature states. [Comment: But they have chosen NOT to tell people that the initial information they released was incorrect and misleading]
Hottowe and Lynn both noted that all along the information has been available to the public, and their informative methods have been no different, if not better, and that every other district running a levy in the surrounding area will be asking for a rise as well.
“We’re doing things exactly the way we’ve done things before and exactly the way every other district in Southwest Washington is doing (things),” Hottowe said. [Question: So are they saying that they merely do what everyone else does whether it’s clear or misleading?]
How the numbers look
The levy is $136.54 million over four years. It will raise approximately $31.7 million in 2018, $33.3 million in 2019, $34.9 million in 2020 and $36.7 million in 2021.
Taxpayer dollars aren’t the only revenue that the levy will generate if passed. It will be matched with up to $26 million in levy equalization funds from the state during the four-year period. [Question: Does this have anything to do with the size of the BG levy or is this money allocated regardless?]
The district projects the tax rate for the levy to stay the same as the 2016 levy rate — $3.66 per $1,000 of assessed value with a house valued at $250,000 costing $915 each year — even taking into consideration the 16.2 percent increase from 2017 to 2018. The district does note that the “actual impact on property owners will depend on the increase or decrease in assessed value.” [Comment: So a $500,000 property will cost $1830? On top of the bonds and state school taxes. This represents what percent of increase per property owner?]
What the current levy looks like: $24.4 in 2014, $25.4 million in 2015, $26.3 million in 2016 and $27.3 million in 2017.
Where the levy dollars go
While levies were originally intended to allow school districts to fund additional staff and programs aside from their basic education needs, schools in Washington often lean on levy dollars for what they deem basic needs as the discussion of what “fully funded” really requires. Ninety-seven percent of the 295 school districts in Washington rely on levy dollars, according to the BGPS. [Comment: Originally intended? They use the money to hire extra staff. The number of extra people is totally a local decision. Other districts don’t have as many people (as a percent of the total personnel) as BG does. So it’s a judgement call since there is NO data that shows value of having extra people]
For example, one area the BGPS deems necessary is additional medical services. The state currently pays for less then (sp?) two nurses (1.7) for all of the district’s 18 schools. Levy dollars fund an additional 12 full-time nurses.
A majority of the levy dollars go to personnel. The district employs a total of 260 employees aside from what the state funds. In addition to nurses, this includes psychologists, security, teaching assistants, principals, assistant principals, certificated staff, technology services and custodial services. [Comment: In comments from the district they said that over 400 people would be laid off if the levy fails – why? Because some people job share or work part time. It’s still 267 positions and associated pay and benefits]
“The state has never provided for what you would like your children to have — to be in a safe and nurturing environment.” Hottowe said of the importance of what the levy dollars are doing. [Comment: This is a judgement call. A different Superintendent might think they need more or less.]
He went on to say that during his more than 40 years in education, Battle Ground is the only place he has seen that level of support. [Comment: So he is saying that other districts haven’t had as many extra people and thus have asked taxpayers for less. He doesn’t say whether there are results for this extra money spent.]
“If you walk in our schools you can feel the presence of adults throughout the school,” he said. “We’re really fortunate to have the level of support we have.”
The levy dollars also help maintain smaller class sizes and services and programs such as transportation, grounds and building maintenance, music and art classes, drug prevention education, instructional technology, special needs education, utilities, insurance, textbooks, up-to-date curricula and professional development. [Comment: If you look at the reported class size from OSPI BG looks nearly identical to surrounding districts that have fewer extra people. How it is possible to have similar class sizes when other districts do with less?]
Of technology, the district feels that students having an understanding of computers, and how to navigate and use them, is no longer just for “fun” but a necessity in the 21st century. The district has already implemented tech in various areas but hopes, with the new levy, to add even more. “It doesn’t matter what the business is, technology is just there. We feel we have an obligation to get our students ready to enter the workforce being technology proficient,” said Hottowe. [Comment: Our research suggests that they will spend a little over $2 million in the next 4-5 years on giving laptops to all students]
Those in favor say…
Sue Cranke, chairwoman of the Citizens for Better Schools in Battle Ground, has been the champion for this levy and many bonds and levies in the past.
Like the district, although disappointed by the bond’s failure to pass last fall, Cranke and others from Citizens for Better Schools have now switched their focus to the levy. Postcards have been sent to some voters, they’ve organized a number of door-knocking and sign waving events.
Throughout both of her boys’ time as BGPS students, the struggle to pass bonds and levies has been a continual source of frustration for her.
“Levy, no levy. Levy, no levy. Levy, no levy. There was never that consistent funding that is so important for schools.” she said.
Cranke explained that it simply didn’t need to be this way — that the district schools don’t need to go underfunded.
“We didn’t have leaky roofs” she said of her own time as a K–12 student outside the district, while talking about a time she had to straddle a bucket to walk through a doorway at Chief Umtuch Middle School.
“Until the state can figure out how to fully fund schools … unfortunately we have to depend on levies — it’s very important,” she said.
In regard to some who feel that because they do not have kids at home, they won’t be voting for the levy, Cranke sees it as a relative matter. She, too, is an empty nester, at retirement age and a property owner, yet she is at the forefront of supporting education through levies and bonds. She said she’s lived in Battle Ground since 1985 and it is her community and home. She said she wants the consistent, reliable funding that her boys never had.
Those opposed say…
At the helm of those against the levy is Dick Rylander. Rylander has been an active voice in local education for some time through his website swweducation.org, social media, by often attending school board meetings and work sessions and meeting with local education officials. He has also ran for Battle Ground School Board in the past.
Rylander says he is an adamant supporter of education and that he supports local levies, as opposed to letting the state decide where all local funding should be spent.
“My issue is not a levy — it’s the amount of the increase,” Rylander said.
Rylander points to the additional staff the district is able to employ through levy dollars. He said that the district has no specific data proving that they are translating into any benefit for the kids. Likewise, he said the district has not provided enough data to show how levy dollars going to technology in the classroom are benefiting students.
Aside from how the district is using — and would use — the levy dollars, Rylander doesn’t think that there will be enough economic stimulation over the next four years to accommodate the rising dollar amount.
“Everywhere you look across the board, there is more and more outflow,” Rylander said in regard to rising taxes in Clark County. “Where are people going to get the money for this?”
He also points at data from point2homes.com, a real estate finder and database, whose numbers suggest that around 60 percent of households in the Battle Ground School District don’t have children.
“Do I want a levy? Yes. I just think we need a much smaller levy to do what they’re doing,” he said, adding that what they are asking for isn’t a reflection of what they actually need, but what they think they can get. He is leery that the district has not outlined where the the (drop one of the’s?) additional funding would go well enough. [Comment: They haven’t said where they will spend the extra $33 million at all]
If it fails
According to the district, “approximately 400 plus staff will be laid off” if the levy fails to pass. While the levy dollars completely fund 260 employees, the levy dollars also combine with state dollars to pay for others.
The district could run the levy again, as soon as April, but that is a decision made by the district board of directors. [Comment: The last levy failed and they came back in April and asked again but claimed that the State would take over the district if the levy failed – which is hogwash. It passed not because they made a case for it but because they scared people.]
“When we don’t have a levy … it’s devastating. It doesn’t just have an impact on us during a time we don’t have a levy,” said Hottowe, talking about the lasting effects of having a period of time with such drastic cuts. [Comment: This statement is a setup to create fear. Nowhere do they make the case for the massive extra money.]
Hottowe also noted the cost of running a levy, with this one costing $50,000. Hottowe noted that usually the levies pass the second time around, but all that does is require the district to spend even more. If it fails and is put on the ballot again in April, Hottowe said the cost will be the equivalent of about a teacher and a half’s salary — plus what was already paid in February.
“What’s the sense in that?” he said.
- We support a levy.
- We support a levy that is reasonable (say 3% increase per year to stay ahead of inflation)
- We support honesty and truthful statements – tell the public what you are doing and why and let them judge
- Why isn’t there a single comment from any of the School Board Directors? (It only passed 3-2) They made the decision but all comments come from the district administration who work for the School Board. Why aren’t the Directors called to task?
By voting NO you can send a message to the school board to “get real”