Overcrowded classrooms, a growing population, and a backlog of other projects highlight the arguments in favor of passing the Bond.
BATTLE GROUND — Ballots should be arriving later this week for residents of the Battle Ground School District. The school board decided last month to take a second shot at passing a $224.9 million school bond ($61.6 million would also come in the form of matching state funds, for a total of $286.5 million). The bond fell 220 votes shy of the 60 percent needed to pass last February. Should it fail this time, the district would not be able to put it back on the ballot until next year.
“It’s hard, in two month’s time, for us to go out and say ‘hey, we’re really going to change a lot of people’s minds’,” Battle Ground Schools Superintendent Mark Ross told Clark County Today shortly after the decision, “but if we can focus on the people that we know are positive, maybe we get more people voting.”
It has been 13 years since Battle Ground last passed a bond. That money, which added $1.23 per $1,000 of assessed value in property taxes, expires in 2023. It paid for the Daybreak and Tukes Valley campuses, Chief Umtuch Middle, Amboy Middle, a classroom expansion at Captain Strong, along with several other projects.
“Since then we’ve seen a tremendous amount of growth in our south end…” Ross says, “in the Pleasant Valley area, the Glenwood/Laurin area, apartments along 119th and 503. And… according to our study, in the next ten years we’ll grow by 1,500-2,500 more students, and predominantly those are going to be in the south end.”
It’s why the district is aiming to replace Glenwood Heights Primary School, Laurin Middle School, and Pleasant Valley Primary and Middle School. A new K-8 school would also be built along 158th Avenue. They would also find a new space for CAM Academy, and add space at Prairie High School, along with more upgrades and security improvements across the district.
“You have the Glenwood/Laurin campus where you have 60-year old and 50-year old buildings,” says Ross. “You have Pleasant Valley campus that’s 40 and 50 years old. And then those campuses are also overcrowded.”
Glenwood Heights Elementary, for instance, was built in 1956. Originally intended to hold up to 484 students, it is currently home to more than 800 kids. Students at Pleasant Valley Primary and Middle Schools often have to carry their lunches back to their classrooms. Dozens of portable units have been brought in to help expand classroom space.
“Our projections in the Glenwood/Laurin area is they’ll probably grow by another 200 students in the next two years,” says Ross, “just in that campus area.”
Should the bond fail yet again, Ross admits they’ll be in a tough spot.
“There aren’t a whole lot of options,” he says. “You can say ‘let’s just put more portables and more kids on a campus’, but the facilities that serve that campus — the cafeterias, the libraries, the gyms — really can only fit so many kids. We’re at a point now where, at Glenwood Elementary, we have so many kids projected for next year we won’t be able to give them all library, because they won’t be able to all fit in the library during the day.”
That would leave the district with the difficult task of likely changing boundaries and shuffling some kids to other schools.
“The thing with Battle Ground being so spread out is it’s not like you have this neighborhood school right next door that you can easily shift the boundaries,” says Ross. “For kids you’re meaning longer bus rides.”
Kids at the Glenwood/Laurin campuses, for instance, would likely face a bus ride north to the Daybreak area.
The Battle Ground district has historically had a difficult time getting additional funding passed. The most recent levy, passed in February of last year, squeaked by with just over 51 percent of the vote. Building Bonds require a 60 percent or better majority to pass.
Despite the narrow loss in February, the board made the decision to put the building bond back in front of voters this month, and exactly as it appeared in February.
“The citizens group said, ‘we don’t want you to take anything out’,” says Ross. “We looked at that, and the citizen’s group said ‘we don’t want anybody to think that there isn’t anything on there that we don’t need'”.
“We don’t have the industry base that a Vancouver or a Camas has that can help offset some of those taxes, Ross says. “So, in Battle Ground that burden has typically been on the local property owners.”
It’s a burden made worse by the state legislature last year. In an effort to meet their Supreme Court mandated funding for education, lawmakers imposed a statewide property tax levy. It will eventually cap local levies, but not until next year, so plenty of people have seen their property taxes jump this year.
The district is hoping voters will look ahead to next year, when property taxes are forecast to go down. The legislature also approved one-time property tax relief for next year.
There is also an underlying sense among many who live in the Battle Ground School District that money has been mismanaged and misspent. Ross says that’s all in the past.
“There were issues two superintendents ago that occurred,” he says, “I would just hope people would look on our current record of how we’re doing. People say they don’t trust us, that we haven’t been good stewards of the money, but all the projects in the 2005 bond were built on time, everything that was promised was built. We have had clean audits in the last 5-6 years. We’re one of the cleaner districts in the state that have been audited.”
Ross is hopeful that focusing their canvassing efforts on neighborhoods most impacted by the population growth might turn the tide in their favor on April 24. But they face a vocal opposition with plenty of data they say puts the district’s math in doubt when it comes to just how much room they really need.
Tomorrow we’ll take a closer look at the argument against the Battle Ground School District building bond. You can read that story here: