Like other local school districts asking voters to pass levies to bolster school finances and educational offerings, Central Valley will be judged, at least in part, by its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Who would have ever envisioned when we started this, we’d have 15 kindergartners in a classroom wearing masks and a teacher with a mask in front of them?” Superintendent Ben Small said recently.
Along with Spokane Public Schools, and based on the guidance from state and regional health authorities, Central Valley chose to begin the year with distance learning only.
Since then, the district of 14,500 students has gradually brought back its youngest learners, and last week unveiled a plan to begin returning secondary students on Feb. 1.
Now the district is asking taxpayers to replace an expiring levy.
Small points out that rates will actually go down if it’s approved.
For the owner of a home assessed at $300,000, it comes out to a reduction of $24 a year. That isn’t much, but it bucks the trend during what has been a difficult year for districts, teachers, students and families.
However, some people are upset with the schools district’s pace to bring students back to school.
Protesters gathered Tuesday outside Central Valley High School and later at the district offices to urge a faster pace.
“We want to advocate for our children, who are losing their drive and their will to learn,” said Kristin Williams, who has a senior at CVHS.
Williams also said her family has received “little communication and support” from the district.
For Williams and her husband, Tony, that has lessened their commitment to voting yes on Feb. 9 to the three-year, $95.3 million replacement levy.
“This is the first time we ever thought we would have a tough time supporting a levy,” Williams said.
Another parent, Holly Mulloy, lamented that her two seniors haven’t been in live classes for almost a year: “We want to support them but we won’t support a district that won’t listen to us and won’t be there for our kids.”
However, Small said that since the beginning of the school year, “Our district has been serving students consistently,” especially in special education programs.
“The best education model is face to face, but at the same time we have to pay attention to the guidance from our public health officials,” he said. “I think we’ve done that and I think we’ve been very responsive.”
“There have been bumps, and it has not been successful for every student, but I think teachers have done fantastic work to connect with every student,” Small said.
For those efforts and for the future, he said, the district hopes voters will support the levy.
As in other districts, CV’s replacement levy is just that: a replacement for the expiring levy passed in 2018.
Funds will cover many programs and personnel not supported by the state. In Central Valley’s case, they include a portion of the nurses, counselors, social workers, custodians and support staff.
Also partially covered are special education programs, curriculum support, extracurricular activities, intervention and support programs, safety personnel and technology such as Chromebooks for every student.
Small points with pride at the district’s emphasis on smaller class sizes at the K-3 level, which is also supported by replacement levy funds and the extra teachers they make possible.
And because K-3 class sizes were already low, the district was better able to bring those students back safely, Small said.
If passed, the levy would raise $29.2 million next year, $31.1 million in 2023 and $33 million in 2024.
The tax rate per $1,000 of assessed value would be $2.40, a drop of 8 cents from this year.
The levy needs only a simple majority for passage.
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