A levy renewal to support school operations in the Selah School District did not get enough votes to pass in preliminary election results Tuesday.
It garnered 46.68% of the vote in its favor, or 1,855 “yes” votes out of 3,974.
Similar school operation levies in East Valley and Granger school districts, meanwhile, appear to be passing. Each requires a simple majority to pass, or 50% plus one.
As of election night, turnout was 30.17%, according to the Yakima County Auditor’s office. More ballots will be counted in coming days, with results certified Feb. 19.
The measures used to be called maintenance and operations levies. They’re used to fund programs beyond basic education, such as athletics, art and music, technology instruction and special education. Each district said ahead of the election that essential enrichment programs would be cut or reduced without the fund renewal.
For Selah, that could mean deep cuts, unless the levy pulls through as more ballots are counted or if it is approved in an election later in the year, said Superintendent Shane Backlund.
In the Selah School District, the nearly $7.7 million two-year levy would have replaced an existing enrichment levy and been matched with a similar amount of state funds. The combined local and matching funds would have accounted for 12% of the district budget each year, if passed, according to the district.
It’s a significant loss if it isn’t approved, Backlund said.
“That’s very disappointing,” he said Tuesday night. “I’m kind of in shock right now.”
In 2018, he said, a school bond measure appeared to be failing on election night, but scraped by as ballots were collected from drop boxes in the county and trickled in by mail in days following. In this case, he said, a more than 3-percentage-point gap “seems to be pretty large in terms of counting on additional votes to come in that would support it.”
While Backlund said the district won’t know the final results until the election was certified on Feb. 19, he anticipated that discussions with the school board to place the measure back on the ballot could begin as soon as a Thursday morning study session. The next opportunity to place it on a ballot would be April. But, he noted, school districts can only run a levy twice in a calendar year.
“We’d really have to consider, if we don’t pass again, what are we going to do to move forward,” he said. “Because that covers 100% of athletics, 100% of technology, safety and a lot of instructional materials. It’s a substantial piece.”
He said its apparent failure was likely due to the community’s frustration with students not being on campus learning full-time and feeling that this was a tax measure they could control, versus state-level taxes.
“Next time around, we’ll have to make sure the message about the importance of this money is made more clear,” Backlund said.
The previous levy helped support remote learning and technology, while the renewed levy will be important for the transition back to in-person learning, the district said ahead of the election.
The pitched levy was projected to cost property owners $1.55 per $1,000 assessed value — in line with the reduced rate the board certified with the County Assessor’s Office to be collected this year, which was below the dollar amount voters previously approved. That would mean a cost of about $465 per year for taxpayers with property valued at $300,000, for example.
The rate of a levy is based on assessed property value and the dollar amount voters approve, making it possible for it to change. The amount requested of voters is a collective $3.6 million in 2022 and $4 million in 2023, according to the county.
Backlund previously said that if the rate is calculated above the $1.55 projection, he would recommend the board adjust it to the lesser, proposed amount.
East Valley’s measure
Nearby in East Valley, voters seemed to lean in favor of a $13.4 million three-year levy, to be matched by about $2 million in state funds. A total of 1,927 votes were cast in favor of it out of 3,524, for a 54.68% preliminary vote in its favor.
The levy is projected to cost taxpayers between $1.97 and $1.95 per $1,000 property value — or a high of $591 a year for a property valued at $300,000. That’s the rate taxpayers saw in 2020, according to the district.
That’s if property value in the area grows each year. The dollar amount the district is asking of voters each year — which, along with assessed value decides the actual rate — is set to increase: It would be about $4.16 million across all property owners in 2022; $4.5 million in 2023; and nearly $4.75 million in 2024, according to elections office figures.
If approved, the funds would provide “critical funding for student readiness, safety, health and security, enrichment and advanced places courses and extra-curricular activities — music, JROTC, arts, sports and other activities. It also funds early learning and social emotional support services and other unfunded mandates not funded by the state,” according to the district.
Meanwhile Granger’s three-year levy at $2,285,000, to be matched with about $1.6 million in state funds, had a 68.28% initial approval, with 310 of 454 votes.
It ranges from $715,000 across all property owners and to $810,000 over the three years, election office figures show. The estimated rate of the levy is $1.64 per $1,000 property value — an anticipated $492 per year for a property valued at $300,000.
The district seeks to eliminate learning gaps among students and said the funds would contribute to district programs like transportation, mental health counseling, technology and curriculum, among other things, in a levy explainer on its website.
Each local measure would renew levies expiring at the end of the year. The new rates would take effect in 2022, if passed.