A Selah School District sign which bears the inscription “Vote YES! Selah School District Levy” is photographed on the corner of North First Street and East Fremont Avenue in Selah, Wash., on Tuesday, April 27, 2021.

Selah and Toppenish residents voted in favor of renewing school levies in a special election Tuesday.

In Selah, a second try at the measure was passing with 53.7% of the vote on Tuesday. In Toppenish, the levy had a 58% approval rate, according to initial results. To pass, they need 50% plus one vote.

The education programs and operations 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.

More ballots will be counted in the coming days. If approved, the ballot measures will replace existing levies expiring at the end of 2021.

In Selah, an initial attempt to renew the levy funds in February fell flat, leading the district to re-run the measure and rework its campaign strategy. The renewed energy appeared effective. On Tuesday, the $7.45 million two-year levy received 2,319 of an initial 4,316 votes, preliminary votes show. The 53.7% in favor was up from 47.2% approval in February.

While ballots will trickle in by mail and drop boxes, Backlund said the approval felt secure.

“The auditor’s office thought that was plenty of cushion based on what the remaining ballots will be, so we’re excited, happy,” he said.

“It’s so much bigger than athletics, because athletics is part of the whole package,” said Backlund, “but there’s just so many other things (like) student services for kids that are part of this levy. So I’m just glad we don’t have to go through the painstaking process of trying to decide where to make cuts. I think we do good things for kids, so we just want to make sure we maintain that.”

The funds will be matched with state dollars if approved. The adjusted levy amount is estimated to cost voters $1.50 per $1,000 in property value, compared to $1.55 pitched in February. Backlund said it is the lowest rate the district can bring in without decreasing the amount of state matching funds brought in by the district.

In Toppenish, the $8.9 million four-year levy will be matched with about $24 million in state funds over the same period. The annual levy amount in Toppenish will increase 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. Election results will be certified on May 7.

What changed in Selah

Backlund said the Selah levy performed better in April due to staff and community efforts to make sure people had correct information about how the funding would be used. Supporters also mobilized voters, sending text messages to encourage people to turn in ballots.

“There will be 400 or 500 ballots more when this is said and done just because of people reaching out and making personal connections,” he said, adding that the district’s new approach was shaped with the help of West Valley community member Michael Moore, who advocated for bond measures in his district in the past.

Backlund said the effort in Selah meant more people got their ballots in, and some minds were changed along the way.

“We had dozens and dozens of conversations with people one-on-one just to help them understand,” he said. “Once they did, it was such a relief to them and us that they got it.”