Spokane’s Central Valley School District is one of 14 local districts that are asking voters for tax money on the February 9 ballot. The district’s three-year proposal would replace CV’s existing levy.
The last few years have been turbulent for school districts in Washington. They’ve had to adapt to fundamental changes in the way the state funds public schools. Then came the Covid pandemic.
“Who would have ever envisioned when we started this, with 15 kindergarteners in a classroom wearing masks and a teacher with a mask in front of them?" said Central Valley Superintendent Ben Small during a levy discussion that aired Monday night on KSPS Public Television. It will air Tuesday at noon on KPBX.
The district’s cautious approach has allowed it to slowly return younger students to the classroom. It has plans to begin bringing back seventh-through-12th graders one day a week on February 1.
Some parents have chosen to keep their children at home and Small says the district has had to adapt to serve them.
“We have a team of social workers, a team of counselors, our safety resource officers and we are out asking and reaching out to our parents who haven’t engaged. We are making home visits. Right now our campus resource officers are delivering Chromebooks to the doorsteps of families," Small said.
He says all of this has put a spotlight on the necessary services that are not paid for or only partially covered by the state, things like counselors and school nurses and transportation.
"We are really running at 50% capacity. That bus costs the same to run with five students in it as it does with 30 students in it," he said.
Local districts lost much of their authority to collect money for those supplemental services not considered basic, but which local taxpayers still consider valuable. Small is trying to convince them the services still funded by that locally-collected money are important.
“Our levy funds extra teaching positions, right at about 30 extra teaching positions in our district. We have lower class sizes in kindergarten-through-third grade. We’re able to do that because we augment state dollars with local dollars in order to decrease that class size," he said.
Small says the property tax rate for all three years of the proposed levy will be less than what patrons are paying this year.
Central Valley has more information about the levy at its website. The district’s patrons will soon receive ballots if they haven’t already. They must be postmarked by February 9.