School levies on February ballot
Teacher/parent explains her support
Last updated 1/12/2022 at 8:03am
With two school levies on the ballot for the Feb. 8 election, one teacher/parent/taxpayer weighs in, and you can too in an online survey.
The two levies — the Educational Programs and Operations Levy and the Capital Levy for Safety, Technology and Facilities Improvement — would bring in an estimated combined total of $1.4 million and $1.7 million annually from 2023 through 2026.
The Star reached out to a handful of teachers at Lake Roosevelt via email for comment. Pam Johnson, who teaches language arts at the high school and has been a teacher for 24 years, offered some thoughts.
Johnson said that she has also been a parent of school-aged kids for 21 years,
in addition to being a property taxpayer, which is where the levy money comes from.
“A school levy proposition is a complex affair in any district,” she wrote, “and the Grand Coulee Dam School District has factors that make our ask even more mind boggling due to large tracts of state and federal lands that aren’t contributing any taxes to the district.”
The purpose of a levy, she notes, is for an individual district to ask local taxpayers to contribute to the education of the students in the community.
“In our area,” she writes, “these students will grow up to be the person taking your blood pressure as you visit your doctor, the person working on your brakes when they are
needing to be replaced, and the person teaching your children or grandchildren. Whether you
are new to the community or a lifer, these folks will be part of your future. The funds you are
being asked to pay stay in this community and work to educate people here for a better
Johnson concedes the timing of the vote might be inconvenient.
“Some assessments are going up due to increasing property values,” she notes. “Inflation may be making prices rise for people and tightening budgets as we all see prices increase. Local business owners may be facing higher minimum wages and feeling the squeeze when it comes to budgeting for the future.”
“In this ask,” she continues, “the way taxpayers are affected by price increases are mirrored in the district. Our contractors reflect increasing wages, health-insurance benefits, and prices, and pass all of these costs to the district for any repairs that are needed and all services we can’t perform in-house. As prices increase for citizens, they also increase for purchases such as copiers, workbooks, desks, paper, and the like. Our biggest outlay is wages, and if the minimum wage increases in the community, wage pressures within the district escalate.”
She notes that how the money from the levies and from the state is spent is an important question.
“Some other districts in the area treat state funding as if schools are a savings account,” she writes. “The state sends money to fund teachers, classroom aids, materials, etc., and rather than pass that along to the students (whom the taxpayers BELIEVE they are supporting), the districts sock the money away as if the state will suddenly stop short and discontinue all funding.”
“The money, designed to flow through to hiring, training, and supporting the best professionals to be with our children, is locked up for some dark future,” she continues. “Our district has a board policy to set aside an agreed-upon percentage in order to weather short storms, but beyond that, the money is spent right here, right now.”
Johnson said her own children have attended schools in the state since 2000. “I am not interested in a district looking ‘fiscally responsible’ by setting money aside and skimping on the duty we have to educate today’s children,” she stated.
“As a local property taxpayer with increasing assessments of my own,” she writes, “the issue comes down to this: I will continue to vote for the levy, even as my home value increases in this current real estate climate. As the prices climb, I will take it up with the assessor and the county, but I can’t rob the future of an educated citizenry.”
Karen Depew, who has headed a school levy committee for about 40 years by her estimation,
explained that “the state does not provide as much as we want, and [the levies] give extra support and funding for some of the programs we have.”
She is joined on the committee by Joe Tynan and Donna DeWinkler. She said the group met last week to dole out tasks such as preparing signs, buttons, and banners that support the levy.
The group helps make the community aware of the levies through communication with letters to the editor the signs, buttons, and more.
Tynan, in a letter to the editor, said that he supports the levies because Generation Z will need to take care of an aging Generation X and that “to provide medical care, they will need
basic math skills, effective communication skills, and a lot of STEM training.”
Depew noted that the Educational Programs and Operations Levy was formerly known as the “M&O” or “Maintenance & Operations” levy.
That levy seeks an estimated $2.50 per thousand dollars of assessed property value to collect $896,000 in 2023, $963,000 in 2024, $1,011,000 in 2025, and $1,041,000 in 2026.
According to a document prepared by the committee, that levy can help pay for costs associated with various athletics and clubs, technology, drivers ed, school lunches, special ed, and more.
The Capital Levy for Safety, Technology and Facilities Improvement, Depew explained, is what has paid for a new roof, HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system, a new gym floor, and electrical upgrades at the former high school in recent years, and could possibly pay for similar projects in the coming years on other parts of the same building, as well as at the former middle school in Grand Coulee where the Alternative Learning Environment is located.
It can additionally help pay for athletic upgrades such as bleachers and stands, concession areas, and more, according to the document prepared by the committee.
That levy seeks an estimated $1.70 per thousand dollars of assessed property value to collect $595,000 in 2023, $625,000 in 2024, $644,000 in 2025, and $663,000 in 2026.
Depew declined to say what negative consequences might result from the levies not passing, saying that the group tries to stay positive, and speaks in terms of “when” not “if” the levies pass.
She said that anyone interested in helping with the current or future levy committees, or those interested in displaying a yard sign or purchasing a button of support for $1 can contact her at 509-631-0761.
The Star is conducting an online survey asking our readers to tell us if they support the levies or not and why.
That survey can be found at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/5M7QFHL and will be linked to in the online edition of this article.