Levy dollars keep Battle Ground buildings in good working order
Sept. 9, 2021
For most of Kevin Jolma’s 18 years working for Battle Ground Public Schools, the motto for the district’s facilities and operations department was “safe, dry, and warm.”
This was especially true in the years following two double levy failures, most recently in 2006. When that happened, “you don’t talk about air conditioning, you don’t talk about aesthetics like painting, you don’t talk about gym floors or replacing carpet,” said Jolma, the district’s executive director of facilities and operations. “It can take years and years to recover from that.”
Following those double levy failures, the district budget for necessary school building capital repairs fell to just $200,000 in total; an amount that doesn’t go far when spread over 1.6 million square feet of building space. Replacing the roof of a single school that can be measured in acres might cost well over a million dollars. During that time, Jolma recalled “losing four people from my maintenance staff and a dozen custodians. I’ve lived through it twice, and I don’t want to do it again.”
In late 2019, the district’s Board of Directors committed to increased levy funding for building projects and repairs throughout the district in an effort to reduce the backlog of deferred maintenance. “This summer was my busiest ever,” Jolma said. In most cases, building projects and equipment purchases exceeding $30,000 come out of levy funding.
Those projects included replacing over two acres worth of carpet at Battle Ground High School, gym floors at Amboy Middle School and the Pleasant Valley campus, and a covered play area at Yacolt Primary—in addition to dozens of other projects. Crews also completed the installation of perimeter fencing at schools, something that was recommended in a district-wide security audit.
With many more much-needed projects on the district’s five-year maintenance plan, Jolma hoped to continue having some additional funds to take care of large repair projects next summer and make schools even more secure. Older buildings like Captain Strong Primary and Prairie High School need revisions to secure their main entrances. With local levy funding in doubt, though, these projects could be put on hold.
“Those projects won’t happen if the levy doesn’t pass,” Jolma said.
Regular maintenance has allowed the district to extend the usefulness of a number of buildings beyond their lifespans. By using levy funds for large maintenance projects such as flooring and roofs, the projects can be paid for as they are completed rather than borrowing the funds and repaying them over the course of a 21-year bond repayment plan.
The Educational Programs and Operations Levy going before voters on Nov. 2 would replace a four-year levy set to expire at the end of this year and include a lower overall tax rate, falling from $2.32 per $1,000 of assessed property value in 2021 to $1.99 per $1,000 in 2022. In the first two years of the levy, the district is asking for fewer dollars than it is receiving in 2021. That means local school taxes will be less. The local school tax paid on a home valued at $450,000 is projected to fall by approximately $123 in 2022 from this year. The tax rate is projected to remain the same all four years of the levy.
What local levies pay for
Local levies fund essential student programs above what the state pays for. In the 2020-21 school year, local funding accounted for around 14 percent of the district’s overall budget, providing student technology, music and art classes, advanced placement courses and electives, social-emotional learning, textbooks, extracurricular activities, athletics, nursing, transportation, special education and student safety, in addition to building maintenance.
Battle Ground Public Schools continues to efficiently use the funds it is given, keeping taxes low and retaining the lowest local tax rate of all K-12 districts in Clark County. As an example, the total local tax rate for Battle Ground school district in 2021 was $2.88 per $1,000, including a $0.56 bond which expires at the end of 2023. That rate is nearly a dollar less than Evergreen Public Schools, and two dollars below Camas School District.
The board of directors decided to put the replacement levy before voters after a similar levy request failed to pass in the February special election. The total amount requested on the November ballot over four years is about $500,000 less than the February request. Using part of its rainy day fund, the levy amount is calculated to allow the district to continue the essential educational programs that it offers today, plus launch middle school sports this winter and continue maintaining school buildings in good working order.