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Letter to Community

Dear Families:

I have been speaking with our staff and secondary students this morning, bringing them up to speed with the latest information regarding the district’s budget, levy and plans for next year. The purpose of these presentations were to address our students and to answer their questions. I want to make sure you also have the same information, so I’m providing you the most frequently asked questions and answers.

First of all, one thing I want to make clear, this is a challenging time, but we are going to work through it together as a community. Our students and our community are worth it. The district believes our students deserve the benefits of a high quality education.

What is a levy?
• A levy is a tax that all property owners pay to the school district, based on their property value.

• Currently the district is collecting $800,000 in levy tax. We proposed to increase the levy by $1.2 million and put it before voters in April. That measure was narrowly defeated.

• In Washington state there are 295 school districts. Currently, 287 have approved levy funds. All school districts in Washington, except eight, receive some funding from local tax dollars (levies).

Why is the school district proposing a levy to the voters for a second time this year?
• For many years, Stevenson-Carson School District received millions of dollars from the federal government through the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program. SRS provided aid to counties containing significant areas of federal land, which was exempt from local property taxes, and therefore did not help fund schools, roads and emergency services.

• With these funds, we did not need to run a local levy, however this federal funding was not renewed and we received our LAST payment of $1.4 million in 2015.

• As SRS funds decreased, our school district’s “savings account” (fund balance) also decreased.

• Without these payments, a local levy is the only option to sustain the student programs and services that are not covered by the state.

What happened in the April election?
• The proposed SCSD levy failed. There was only a 56-vote separation between the YES and NO votes. The election had a 40 percent turnout of registered voters.

What happens next?
• We try again. The next election is scheduled for August 1. This is our last opportunity to request a levy this year.

What does this mean for planning next year’s budget?
• It’s complicated. Per state requirements, the budget must be approved in July, and we cannot budget money for a proposed levy – only an approved levy. Therefore, we need to have a budget in place that does not include the levy funds.

• Achieving this will require approximately $1.8 million in budget cuts for next year.
If the August 1st proposed levy is approved, when will the district receive funds?

• We will continue to collect the tax from the current levy of $800,000 until December 2017. If the new levy is approved, we can begin collecting the new levy amount in January 2018. If the levy is approved this August 2017, the school district’s budget can be modified to include the new revenue.

Is this a new tax?
• NO. It is important to remember, this is NOT in addition to the taxes people are already paying. It is a replacement levy, with an estimated rate increase of approximately $1.41 per $1,000 in assessed property value.

What does a $1.8 million cut mean to our district?
• Any school district budget spends the bulk of its money on people—teachers, secretaries, librarians, cooks and all the people you see in the buildings each day. Unfortunately, that is where we need to make most of our reductions. This is a very difficult thing to do. This district cares deeply about our staff members and our students. We are like a family.

• Even if the levy had passed, we would have had to make some reductions. Because the levy was not approved, the reductions will need to go deeper.

• The first “official” reductions have been to our teaching staff, because there are state rules about the timeline for giving them notice. This process is called RIF, meaning Reduction in Force. This was a terribly difficult process. We have had one teacher resign, one teacher ask for a year leave of absence and one teacher ask to work part time. Those requests are allowing us to keep more options open for students than we anticipated.

• Another difficult area of the budget that will need to be reduced is our support staff.

What does this mean for our students?
• With fewer teachers, class sizes will increase, and students will have fewer choices of classes. We will do our very best to put together a schedule with options. However, when there are fewer teachers, there are fewer options.

What decisions have been made about cuts so far?
• Whether it be sports, art, AP, your favorite teacher, Prom, AVID, ADVO – there are important programs and people that make students want to come to school! We have to balance what’s important to ALL students. I have heard many rumors about various offerings being canceled, but most decisions have yet to be made. We are working through this.

This is what we know right now:

o We will not be able to hire a business teacher for this fall.

o Decisions about sports and extracurricular activities, which we know are important for our students, are on hold. (Local levy funds are used to cover these activities.) The district will support all summer athletic activities as it has in past years. Our SHS Football team has already held a parents’ meeting and their planning is underway.

o If the proposed levy is not approved, the district will be open to brainstorming other funding avenues for our programs. It is important for students to know we are working hard on their behalf and that we want to see them experience a complete education, which includes those activities outside of the school day.

o For fall, I’ve asked our athletic director to schedule our games with other districts, but this is all **budget pending**.

o We might have fewer AP (advance placement) classes, but that would be because not enough students have enrolled or another class must be offered for our students to meet graduation requirements. These are always considerations when the schedule is built. There has been no decision to eliminate AP entirely.

o Each of the school and department budgets will see reductions. There will be fewer supplies in teachers’ cabinets. Computers might not be replaced as quickly as they usually would be. Buildings might not be maintained to the same degree they are now.

How and when will we know more?
• These decisions are important and that’s why all summer long, I will share the information I have. I will also be sharing information about the importance of adequate school funding.

• The August election will be a critical one. I will work tirelessly with staff and community to find ways to provide our students the opportunities they deserve.

• Our commitment is to continue to find ways to reduce spending and do more with the funds we receive.

Is the swimming pool still opening? Why or why not?
• Yes. The swimming pool is being reopened because of financial partnerships with the City of Stevenson, Skamania County, Washington Investment Board, Tourism Fund and PTA. It is the district’s goal to KEEP the pool open with funds from our community partnerships and revenue that the pool will generate.

• During the past five years that the pool was closed, it cost the school district between $25,000 and $30,000. Our goal is to have the pool opened and used by the entire Stevenson-Carson community and beyond for not much more than the cost of keeping it closed. If we are unable to maintain our financial partnerships, or if the pool does not generate adequate revenue, the school district will close the pool and repurpose the building.

Can staff and/or students support or oppose the levy? Do they have “freedom of speech”?
• As a superintendent, the only thing I’m allowed to do is to give factual information about the levy.

• Staff are able to speak factually about the levy while they are being paid by the district. When they are “off the clock” they may choose a side: support or oppose, and they may campaign. Staff members may post on their Facebook pages, write letters to the editor, hold signs up downtown, go door-to-door, call their friends and talk about how the levy will positively or negatively impact the students in our schools. Staff can also talk about how the levy will impact their personal taxes. As private citizens, staff may speak freely about all things political outside of their contract/paid time, whether they support or oppose the levy.

• Students may speak freely about the levy whether in or out of school. They may choose a side: support or oppose. They may campaign and make posters, write letters, post on Facebook, hold signs, go door-to-door and talk about how a levy will positively or negatively impact them and their school. These are just a few examples of ways students may support or oppose the levy.

• I have asked both staff and students to remember that when presenting information about the levy—whether during the school day or outside of the school day—they represent our school district and to please be respectful, kind and positive. I ask this also of our community.

What else can we do as community members?
• Everyone who is over age 18 is entitled to vote. Anyone who is 18 or turns 18 before July 1 may register to vote and can vote for the August 1st election.

At the end of my presentation, students were encouraged to find me to have other questions addressed. If you have other questions, please e-mail me your questions and provide a phone number for a return call. Thank you so much for your time.

 

Sincerely,

Karen Douglass
Superintendent