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By Rebecca Gourley
Reporter 

School district seeks next M&O levy

 

Lou Marzeles

LEVY FOR A ‘PROPERTY RICH’ DISTRICT: Goldendale School District Superintendent Mark Heid speaking at the Greater Goldendale Chamber of Commerce business luncheon last Thursday. Heid says the district won’t get much in levy equalization funds from the state this year after the county’s new property assessment puts its value above $1 billion.

Next month the Goldendale School District will seek aid from taxpayers for its Maintenance and Operation replacement levy.

The past three levies that voters have passed were at a rate of $2.49 per $1,000 of assessed property value. However, this most recent levy, the actual rate that taxpayers paid was only at $2.03.

It was 44 cents less than what voters had passed because, as Superintendent Mark Heid put it, they did not know how the windmill companies property valuations would affect their rate. “We missed our projection, but it was a good miss,” said Heid.

A new assessment of the windmill properties, done by Assessor Darlene Johnson, brought Goldendale School District above $1 billion in valuation in 2010 for 2011's taxes. Even after losing $8 million from the aluminum plant disassembly, the state looks at Goldendale School District as a “property-rich” district.

Local Effort Assistance (LEA), more commonly known as Levy Equalization, is aid for property-poor districts. If the levy rate has to be set so high because of low property valuations, LEA steps in and provides funds to those districts in need. In this case, Goldendale will not be seeing much, if any, LEA funds according to Heid.

He expects that with the newly proposed K-12 education budget cuts, approximately $240,000 will be slashed from Goldendale School District. During February’s levy, the district will ask voters to approve a two-cent increase, for a rate of $2.05 per $1,000 of assessed property value, to compensate for that cut.

“Two years ago, school districts got together and sued the state for not funding us correctly,” explained Heid. The courts ruled in favor of the schools and upheld that decision even after the state spent $1 million trying to appeal it, according to Heid.

“They have given them until 2018 to figure out how to do it right,” said Heid.

However, even with the court battle over and the future looking better, Heid says he does not want to count on fewer cuts any time soon because of it.

“We’re at a place now that we’re at three teachers per level,” explained Heid, “22 to 24 students in a class.”

One of the proposed cuts would be to add two students to every classroom.

“They think that adding two kids to each classroom is nothing. For us it’s huge,” added Heid, “because we can’t just put two more kids in. It doesn’t work that way for us. What that means for us is the loss of two teachers.”

Heid explained that if those cuts were implemented, the loss of two teachers would come from remedial programs or counselors.

“That two cent increase raises us $240,000 more dollars,” added Heid. “This is just to allow us to continue the programs and the staffing that we have.”

Heid also explained another way in which the schools are trying to save money: water consumption.

“We changed all of our underground sprinklers and attached them to our own wells,” he added. “And that reduced our consumption by almost a third.” However, they still pay the same amount for water, because of the higher rates.

February’s levy will look a lot like the levy from two years ago, says Heid.

Most of the outline for how the levy money will be spent is the same as when it was passed last time around. Nevertheless, there are a few slight changes.

Project “Lead the Way” is one of those changes. It funds training for teachers so that students are able to take more science and higher level math classes.

“It’s that interlocking of real-world to our book learning,” said Heid. “This is the application part of those things that we are trying to teach kids.”

The levy funds are approximately 21 percent of the total budget for the Goldendale School District, about $2.4 million out of a $10.5 million budget.

If the levy does not pass, Heid says the school district would be crippled. “I can’t imagine looking for $2 million in cuts,” he added.

“These are so important for the school district. Our community has really supported our levies, and we really appreciate that,” Heid stated.

 

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