The Chronicle Editorial Board, consisting of diverse individuals, including fiscal conservatives, business owners and one senior, stands behind our belief that higher property taxes and overburdensome regulations hurt working families and fixed-income residents disproportionately.
We understand some of the reasons communities express their frustration through “no” votes against local ballot measures, such as the recent vote by the Centralia residents against their local school replacement levy. We also recognize the community’s unhappiness with the past teacher strike, pay raises and outside influence in board elections.
However, our board believes passing the April Centralia replacement school levy will be a good investment in our students, economy and the future of the community. Repeated levy failures are taken by many to mean that a community is going down, not up. Repeated failures have negative consequences for the future of kids, families and the community, both in the short- and long-term. In fact, we believe Centralia and its schools are on the way up, a trend that will continue with passage of this levy.
The Centralia School District has turned the corner from the past and has a very bright future worth your investment.
When a levy fails, the school district will let employees go. More than 80% of a school district’s costs are in paying people. Paying for utilities, diesel, books and computers is less than 20%. This can result in vital program cuts and layoffs of uncertified staff, including counselors.
Following COVID-19 school closures, there was a significant rise in mental and behavioral health issues. This has created a significant stress on our mental health facilities that has poured over into the classroom. It is not difficult to find tragic stories of student behavioral issues and depression, increased substance abuse, crime and potentially the worst of all — student suicides.
We acknowledge that our society has placed significantly too much responsibility on schools to address these issues. Once solely the responsibility of families, caring for the wellbeing of young people is also a school duty. Young people in this country are feeling more stress and anxiety about their present situation and future than ever before, and national research supports the idea that the job of school counselors is more critical than ever. Denying the school district resources to retain or attract quality counselors makes it even harder for struggling kids.
Failed school levies also bring cuts to paraeducators and staff who facilitate classroom education in core subjects where we expect our students to excel. The debate can continue about whether our schools are properly focusing education on math, science and English education, but any school will struggle to properly educate children if a replacement levy fails.
We believe the replacement levy will maintain funding levels while the school continues to work through policies to meet the needs of the students, families and community.
In addition to cuts in basic education, failed school levies will result in cuts to sports, arts, career readiness, clubs and the enhancement programs that often keep students in school. Not every student wakes up in the morning wanting to go to school to learn algebra. However, they may go to school and work through an algebraic formula before heading off to career and technical education or their after-school FFA program. Not every student is college bound. Some students take the path of career readiness, and failed levies will jeopardize their futures as well.
There are those who will say “I don’t have a student in school.” To them we say, it is about our community and attracting family-wage jobs with a good school district. It is about making sure we have a well-trained and competent workforce coming out of school. China is doing this today. America and American kids need to be ready to compete. A failed levy harms the education of young people today, is a red flag for future economic development and hinders quality job growth potential. If you are lower income or a senior citizen, you can vote yes and visit your county auditor for a property tax exemption.
Superintendent Dr. Lisa Grant has made real progress in the Centralia School District. She has brought ideas, energy and collaboration to the district that have been missed for too long. We believe passing a replacement levy would help her take the Centralia School District to the next level.
We are also encouraged by the public support for the replacement levy by our elected leaders. A recent Chronicle story highlighted support from both Centralia Mayor Kelly Smith Johnston and Lewis County Commissioner Sean Swope. State Rep. Peter Abbarno has been a vocal supporter of the Centralia replacement levy, saying, “All successful communities have a quality education system as their foundation. There are few better investments made than in our students.”
We acknowledge that voting against a school levy is not a decision that the voters in Centralia take lightly. There are very few ways for voters to share their policy and economic frustrations; sadly those frustrations boil over and local ballot measures feel the brunt of the frustration. We encourage voters to take their frustration out on Washington, D.C., and Olympia, not your local schools.
The Washington state Constitution states that it is the “paramount duty of the state to make ample provisions for the education of all children residing within its borders.” The state has historically failed to fulfill its duty, so much so that it was sued in 2007 by two families in the McCleary v. State of Washington case, arguing the state was not meeting its constitutional obligation. And, in 2018, the state Supreme Court agreed. For a short period, Washington implemented a “fix” by taking a greater financial obligation to close funding gaps in property-poor districts that could not raise as much local levy dollars. Sadly, the state has slid backward after that decision and the disparity in education funding and quality between property-poor and property-rich districts has grown.
That is a bigger issue for another editorial.
In the immediate, our editorial board encourages voters to consider the long-term implications of a failed levy, particularly as they relate to the wellbeing and success of the community's youth. We argue that school counselors play an essential role in the academic success and emotional wellbeing of students and that a failed levy can have long-term negative impacts on the community's future.
We recognize the economic concerns and community frustrations that may lead people to vote against school levies.
However, it is critical to consider the long-term implications of a failed levy on the wellbeing and success of students, families and the community.