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Opinion: Supports replacement School Levy

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Why Vote for the Levy?

We are living in unprecedented times. The year 2020, will surely be one that all of us will be talking about for many years to come. With the devastating impact on our society and economy of COVID-19 and the closure of Intalco, many of us are questioning the wisdom of paying more taxes when a considerable segment of our population is struggling from unemployment and some are facing the possibility of being homeless. So why vote in favor of the levy? There are several reasons.

To begin with, we need to remember that the purpose of the levy is to provide additional funding, not provided by the State Legislature. This is used to supplement school operations, which includes special education, academic support for students, and staffing for essential program areas, apart from basic education. A few years ago, the State Legislature told districts that it would eliminate the need for school levies by fully funding all public schools. In less than two years, the Legislature went back on its promise. As a result, all districts were told that, once again, they would need to implement school levies at the local level.

Last February, all Whatcom County School Districts passed their levies, except for Ferndale. At the time, the district was asking for a replacement levy of $2.50 per $1,000 of assessed valuation for four years, which was lower than the rate asked by every other school district. Because of the pandemic, the school board opted not to place it on the April ballot. In the process, the District listened to voter feedback and reduced the rate to $1.50 per $1,000 for two years.

As a result of the initial levy failure, the district laid off more than 100 staff members, together with additional cuts in services, technology, and programs. If the levy does not pass this coming November, more draconian measures will need to be taken, as many additional services and programs and more staff members will be eliminated.

A year and half ago, Ferndale voters approved a bond for building a new Ferndale High School, together with other critical infrastructure improvements in other district facilities. The legislature has historically considered school bonds a local issue. Unfortunately, with the passage of this bond, the renewed need for an operations levy, together with the current pandemic and the aluminum smelter shutdown, all these things totally have resulted in a perfect storm. Understandably, many voters feel that paying more taxes at the present time, is just “a bridge too far”.

As stated earlier, levy dollars fund many programs not included in the formula for “basic education”. An example of this is technology, which includes the provision of student computers for use in the classroom and at home. Current remote learning is only possible because of the availability of this type of learning tool. A failed levy will do away with that type of support. It will also adversely impact special education programs, lower class sizes, the eight-period high school schedule, elective and advanced course classes, support staff, teachers, athletic and music programs, and other extracurricular school activities.

The last time Ferndale failed a levy was back in the 1970s, almost 50 years ago. As I said at the outset, these are truly unprecedented times. Having a school system that is financially stable, will result in many positive dividends for our community. If passed, the levy will go into effect next year, thus providing the district those critical funds it will need to move forward in providing a quality education for our students. The current levy rate of $2.50 will be replaced by one that is only $1.50. This is not an additional tax. It will replace the one that is set to expire this December.

This pandemic will eventually run its course and we can all look forward to better days ahead. We all agree that “in person” learning is the best model for many good reasons. Psychologists and sociologists tell us that we all need that vital personal interaction. Hopefully, that will happen sooner than later. In the meantime, let’s get our Ferndale schools financially prepared and ready to resume their normal operations and activities. As a fellow Ferndale voter, I would ask you to support our schools and strongly consider voting for our school levy this coming November 3rd. Thank you.

Herb Porter

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