Battle Ground School Board approves February date for replacement levy vote

The district will dip into reserve funds to keep the levy rate lower than the expiring one

BATTLE GROUND — The Battle Ground Schools Board of Directors on Monday voted unanimously to ask voters in February to renew a Educational Programs and Operations (EP&O) levy.

An existing four-year levy is set to expire at the end of 2021. If approved, the new levy would take effect in 2022 and run through 2025.

The board noted that the replacement levy would start at a rate of $1.95 per $1,000 of assessed property value, a reduction from the current rate of $2.34 per $1,000.

Battle Ground Public Schools will have a replacement local levy on the ballot in February of 2021. File photo
Battle Ground Public Schools will have a replacement local levy on the ballot in February of 2021. File photo

In years 2-3, the new levy would increase to an average of $2.20 per $1,000, though that is still 14 cents lower than the existing rate.

At those rates, the levy would raise an estimated $24.92 million in the first year, rising to $29.23 million in 2023, $30.4 million in 2024, and $31.6 million in 2025.

Meagan Hayden, the district’s chief financial officer, said Monday that local levy funds make up about 14 percent of the overall budget.

“It fills in the gaps, is a really good way to look at it,” said Hayden, “from what the state funds.”

While state law now prohibits districts from using local levy dollars to supplement teacher income, they are still used to add programs and staffing the state’s basic education model doesn’t cover.

In Battle Ground that includes salaries for coaches, extra nurses and psychologists at several schools, music and arts programming, security, assistant principals, as well as maintenance and operations costs.

“It’s a tough one as a taxpayer to understand that the state isn’t fully funding education, especially special ed,” said Board President Troy McCoy. “So a lot of that falls on this money.”

In order to reduce the levy amount during 2022, and continue funding those programs and services, the district will dip into its emergency fund balance, though the final amount has yet to be determined.

“I don’t like to have to use the reserve fund,” McCoy said, “but COVID is one of those things that makes it necessary.”

The board decided bringing the first-year rate of the replacement levy would likely be the best way to help get the support necessary to approve it. 

“We tried to look at it in several ways for the community and give a good solid package that would be supported,” said Board Director Monty Anderson.

“This levy will help Battle Ground maintain the funding for essential student programs and services,” added McCoy.  “Local support is critical to providing a variety of programs that appeal to a wide range of students, to supporting special needs students, and to maintaining facilities. The state does not cover or fully cover many of these critical components of education.”

If voters approve the levy, the Battle Ground district will be eligible to receive about $2 million in levy equalization funds from the state over the four-year period. 

“We appreciate the support that our community has given to our students over the years,” said Superintendent Mark Ross in a statement released by the district. “We continue to need that support to provide the programs and opportunities that prepare our students for a successful future.”

Putting the levy on the Feb. 9, 2021 special election ballot also allows the district the option of re-running the resolution later in the year, should it fail to pass.

In a news release, Battle Ground Public Schools noted that the levy would keep them at the lowest tax rate of any Clark County school district.

While several districts have both maintenance and operations levies, in addition to technology levies, Battle Ground has chosen to carry only a single levy.