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News >  Education

West Valley, Cheney school districts prepare to use new funds after levies narrowly pass

UPDATED: Tue., Nov. 12, 2019

It wasn’t easy, but the West Valley and Cheney school districts are moving forward following the narrow passage of levies.

Neither district could exhale until late last week, capping an uncertain season for public school funding.

At the same time, a $14.6 million levy failed in Mead, while Spokane, Central Valley and other districts watched with interest from the sidelines.

The big winner was West Valley, which passed a two-year, $5.3 million levy that will restore some of the staff and programs lost in this year’s budget cuts.

After leading narrowly on election night, the levy slowly pulled into the safe zone and was comfortably ahead going into Veterans Day weekend.

As of Tuesday afternoon, it led with 56% of the vote.

“Supplemental levies are historically difficult to pass,” West Valley Superintendent Gene Sementi said. “That’s why we always go in the spring; sometimes you get lost in the November ballot.”

One thing that didn’t get lost was the message that the district was able to hold teacher raises to an average of 9%.

“Voters felt like we were being good stewards,” Sementi said.

However, the 9% hike, along with the state-mandated reduction of the levy cap, left the district with a projected $2.5 million shortfall for the year.

“We talked about the fact that we’ve done a lot of work around safety and security, keeping the staff we had and retaining high-quality employees,” Sementi said.

Cheney had a much closer call. Its $4.2 million levy trailed by a handful of votes on election night, pulled ahead by 82 votes the next day and continued that trend the rest of the week.

By Tuesday, it was passing 4,424-3,844.

Cheney Public Schools asked voters to approve a $4.2 million capital property tax levy that would help the district pay for future school sites and technology upgrades.

The challenge was different for Superintendent Robert Roettger and the district: convincing voters to invest in the growth that is sure to come.

A report released in August project that the district’s student population could expand from about 4,900 students this year to 9,200 by 2029.

“The district is growing. Airway Heights is growing,” Roettger said.

“The main message was to prepare for growth in Cheney public schools,” Roettger said. “We see Amazon and the projection for growth (in Airway Heights), as well as making sure that we have up-to-date technology for our students.”

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