Brush Prairie resident Bill Eling shares his thoughts on the upcoming Hockinson School District levy on the Feb. 8 special election ballot
Editor’s note: Opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are those of the author alone and do not reflect the editorial position of ClarkCountyToday.com
Though I share the sentiment that Hockinson is a great community and that a small local school district is a fine thing, after 30 years of voting in favor of school levies I cannot vote in favor of the Hockinson levy on February 8. The District fails to make the case that extra money will be used to improve education and there is no legal guarantee the District will fund the programs used to sell the levy to voters.
The sales pitch is curious but follows a well-worn trajectory: everything you and the kids enjoy will go away. No sports, no electives, no band, no nurse. They tell you this levy is only 10-11 percent of the total budget. But here is what they don’t tell you: if the budget is around $27 million, and 10 percent of $27 million is $2.7m, then why is the “replacement levy” $4 million plus a year? Why didn’t the District just replace current funding instead of cranking it up an extra million? And why increase it 9% each successive year?
Where’s the money going? The District’s November 16, 2021 official request for pre-ballot approval of the enrichment levy sent to the Office of the Superintendent shows that $39,545, less than 1 percent of the $4 million dollars goes to “Supplies, Instructional Resources and Purchased Services.” 99 percent goes to salaries and benefits.
What happens when more families leave the District and the District loses the State per-pupil money? Why does the State Auditor write that the District has a “Significant Contingent Liability” of $50,000 to $250,000 in attorney fees? [Source: Washington State Audit Report No 1028204, April 26, 2021, Note 3, page 42.] How will the District make that up? These are legitimate questions which deserve answers.
So the sales pitch is no surprise. If the District sent voters copies of OSPI’s Pre-Ballot Approval plan instead of glossy flyers, the difference between the pitch and the plan would be obvious. The levy is for salaries. It is not like salaries have been stagnant. After the 2018 strike salaries increased 14.5 percent and an additional 2 percent per annum in successive years. Other moneys such as ESSER funds went to salaries. [Source: HSD Budget PowerPoint Presentation, June 28, 2021, p. 2].
What’s troubling is with all of this money, the District is failing our students. While Hockinson students may do better on state tests than other districts, our scores are nothing to crow about. According to calculations based on OSPI Data Portal 2018-19 pre-COVID testing data, 29.1 percent of our students fail to meet the minimum standard for English; 37.6 percent fail in Science; and 41.9 percent fail in Math. Although OSPI has not yet reported district by district statistics for the COVID years, OSPI has reported a significant drop statewide.
If our teachers need professional support to help them help our kids exceed standards, I am all for it. Instead the State requires our teachers to learn about white privilege and cultural oppression. Even assuming such training has merit, it is difficult to see how focusing on contentious racial and sexual theories will help our kids meet or exceed minimum standards.
If this levy fails, I am certain the District will seek another vote in April. But by April we will know whether the Legislature has reduced the school week to 4 days. By April we should know current HSD test results. By April we may know if the Governor will impose a student vaccine mandate. By April, the District has time to move from the sales pitch to a candid discussion. Until then, I vote no.