Significant budget cuts for Selah schools would affect sports if voters once again refuse to approve a school levy later this month.
Assistant Superintendent Chris Scacco said approximately $1 million in levy funds each year fund all sports and activities, both at Selah High School and Selah Middle School. The district would find money for sports from other sources if Selah residents vote no, but athletics would not be exempt from across-the-board cuts of $6 million to $7 million, or around 12% of the district’s total budget.
Both Scacco and Superintendent Shane Backlund said they don’t want to make threats as they try to educate voters about what the levy means for the district. Athletic Director Jake Davis confirmed he hasn’t been a part of any conversations regarding what would happen should the vote fail a second time.
“Our focus is just on April 27 and the levy hopefully passing at that time,” Davis said. “I just think it’s important to focus on that and not to plan so much on what hopefully doesn’t happen.”
Less travel and shorter seasons during the COVID-19 pandemic mean the district is spending less money on athletics this school year, although sports are back and scheduled to run through June. Scacco said a little less than $500,000 from 2020-21 levy funds will carry over to next school year, with a good chunk of that coming from athletics.
Backlund said levy funds have always been available during his 20 years with the district, but the Great Recession did lead to some cuts in 2009. Administrators chose to turn lower-level sports programs into intramural leagues first and then switched to a pay-to-play model that has since been eliminated.
Scacco and Backlund both emphasized the district wouldn’t necessarily follow the same approach this time around. Backlund indicated a heightened sensitivity to equity concerns stemming from the pay-to-play model, since it might make sports inaccessible to some students from low-income households.
Most of the levy funds budgeted for sports go to high school programs, which have found plenty of success in recent years. Over the last five years in every sport prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, Selah won nearly 30 district team titles and four Class 2A state championships, along with three runner-up finishes.
“It’s fostered great community pride, which is something that’s really important to us,” Backlund said, noting Selah student-athletes also won six academic state championships in the last eight years. “We’ve been able to get kids that maybe otherwise wouldn’t be involved in athletics as well.”
Those triumphs bring some additional costs, such as the money required to travel to postseason events and to face tougher nonleague opponents on the west side. Backlund said they try to budget with the expectation that teams will make the postseason, but mandatory cuts would require looking at all of those elements.
Voters in Selah and Toppenish will soon receive April ballots to decide whether to renew school operation levies.
The two districts have placed education programs and operations levies — formerly referred to as maintenance and operations levies — on the ballot. If approved, they will replace existing levies expiring at the end of 2021. To pass, they need 50% plus one vote.
Ballots will be mailed April 9 and must be returned by 8 p.m. April 27. Results will be certified on May 7.
The levies are used to fund programs beyond basic education. In Toppenish, that includes arts, preschool upgrades, technology, safety, graduation specialists, additional classroom support, robotics programs, field trips and maintenance, said Superintendent John Cerna.
In Selah, all sports are funded by the levy, as well as all technology, safety, instructional materials and more, according to Superintendent Shane Backlund.
Selah previously asked voters to renew the school levy in February. It fell short of the 50% plus one required to pass, with 47.2% votes in favor. The cost to voters was lowered and it’s been placed back on the ballot. This is Selah’s second and final opportunity to secure the vote this year. Toppenish’s measure is on the ballot for the first time.
Both districts say approving their respective bonds would ensure local voters’ state taxes would return to their own community, instead of Olympia, and maintain programs the districts and communities can’t afford to lose.
In Selah, a nearly $7.7 million, two-year levy renewal pitched in February has been reduced to $7.45 million over two years for its April ballot appearance. The levy would be matched with state funds.
The adjusted levy amount is estimated to cost voters $1.50 per $1,000 property value, compared to $1.55 pitched in February. Backlund said this is significant because it is the lowest rate the district can bring in without decreasing the amount of state matching funds brought in by the district. If it’s not approved, local taxpayers are “giving money to Olympia and not getting it back,” Backlund said of state school taxes.
Voter turnout in February was low among people under 40, which includes district parents, he said.
“So we’re trying to be more targeted with our community and really answer the questions we heard come up from the last election,” he said.
The district has received questions about federal COVID-19 relief funds, how they were used and whether the levy is necessary. Backlund said it is.
He said in spring 2020, the district received over $600,000, which has been nearly entirely depleted by costs for things like personal protective equipment, additional technology and paying staff throughout the summer to provide youth meals. An anticipated $2.2 million in additional relief funds that can be spent through 2023 will help offset a decline in transportation funds and revenue loss from a 145-student decline in enrollment this school year. That’s significant since staffing is determined by enrollment projections before the start of the school year.
The funds also will be used to help students make up for learning loss during the pandemic, he said. The district is planning “robust summer learning this year and next, and extended learning opportunities” next school year.
The existing operations levy funds also were used to pay staff throughout the pandemic and avoid layoffs. Staff provided academic services remotely, technology or food services, and child care for first responders early in the pandemic using these funds — services he said looked different from a normal school year, but were important to the community.
The district also pushed for students to return to campus early on this school year, and has had a significant portion of its student body receiving some in-person instruction since October, he said. The district did see some small savings from the existing levy from not having students full time on campus, Backlund said. That came to about $400,000 less than what the district expected to spend this school year than it’s actual spending — a far cry from the $6 million brought in by local levy and state matching funds.
Without the levy, programs like Selah athletics would be unfunded.
The district is working to answer community questions about the levy, said Backlund, including sharing information online as concerns arise.
“We’re just trying to really answer the questions that are out there,” he said.
Toppenish is asking voters to approve a four-year, $8.9 million levy that would be matched with about $24 million in state funds over the same period, Cerna said. The annual levy amount increases gradually from $1.42 million to $1.54 million over the four years, but is pitched to cost voters $2 per $1,000 property value under the premise that property value increases over time.
Voters approve levy amounts, not rates, which are estimates.
The school district is pitching the levy as a tax-saving measure.
“I really appreciate our constituents supporting the school. We really appreciate what they’ve done for us, and this is one way of giving back instead of just taking,” said Cerna.
Here’s how he says that would work:
As it stands, he said, voters in Toppenish pay three local school taxes:
Altogether, Cerna said that costs voters about $6.93 per $1,000 assessed property value. That’s $1,386 for a property valued at $200,000.
If voters approve the renewal of the operation levy, Cerna said that would bring in over $6 million in state matching funds annually. The district would use $2 million of that each year to pay toward the school bond — slashing that $2.48 per $1,000 property value down to about 45 cents, while bringing locally paid state schools taxes back to Toppenish through matching funds.
Cerna said this would be done through a “loophole in the law” to “give back” taxes to the community. The result would be taxpayers paying about 45 cents toward the bond per $1,000 assessed value, about $2 per $1,000 assessed value for the renewal levy as well as for the capital improvements levy at about $2.43 per $1,000 for an estimated total of $4.88 per $1,000 value. If the rate pitched is accurate, that would mean $976 annually for a property valued at $200,000 — a drop of over $400 year-on-year in locally paid taxes.
If the levy renewal is not approved, Cerna said the district will have to slice staffing and key programs, while taxpayers will pay more than they would be expected to if they approve the levy renewal. That would be a combined rate of about $4.91 per $100,000 for the existing bond and capital levy as opposed to the estimated $4.88 across all three after the $2 million annual contribution by the school district of state matching funds.
Cerna said approving the operations levy is a way to bring in funds that would otherwise go to Olympia from state school taxes and to reduce the tax burden for Toppenish community members. While the explanation is complex, he said the result would be the district thanking the community for its long-lasting investment in the school district.
All levy rates are estimates based on levy amounts approved by voters. They are certified by the County Assessor’s Office each year based on assessed property value within an area.
Released Thursday, the Washington State Patrol’s updated list of active cases of missing Indigenous people includes 32 women and men within the Yakama Nation and in Yakima County out of a total of 107. The first list released in early March had 98 names, which included 30 cases within the Yakama Nation and in Yakima County.
Among changes were removal of two names of missing Indigenous people in Yakima County — Roma L. Jim, who went missing on Christmas Day 2019 and would be 17 now; and Marisela E. Rosales, who disappeared March 26, 2019, and would be 19. Both were Yakama Nation Police Department cases and information about why their names were removed wasn’t immediately available.
The four names added, all Yakama Nation Police Department cases, included Anthony “Tony” Peters, whose 63rd birthday was last month. A flyer that’s been shared says he was last seen in October 2014 at Legends Casino, but information for the date missing on the State Patrol list is June 1, 2014.
Also added were Ginnie A. McJoe, 17, who went missing March 15; Anne L. Hudson, 39, missing since March 5; and Carlos Gasca, 13, who went missing March 29.
Dozens of women and men have gone missing, have been found murdered and have died mysteriously on and around the 1.3-million-acre Yakama reservation, which is in Yakima County and northern Klickitat County. Many cases are unsolved.
Of the Yakima County cases on the State Patrol’s list, 29 are with Yakama Nation police, one is with the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office, one is with the Yakima Police Department and one is with the Toppenish Police Department.
The list includes the person’s age today, the date she or he went missing, the reporting agency, case number and phone number for the reporting agency.
The State Patrol published its first list of active cases of missing Indigenous people in March, including a link to that list on its official blog, InsideOut. The WSP included a link to the list as part of a March 10 tribal liaison update. It was the first time the state agency published such a list of names of Native people who are the subject of active missing persons cases.
The Yakama Nation Police Department is part of the Yakama Nation’s public safety department. Its phone number is 509-865-2933.