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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

West Valley School board sends bond and levy asks to February ballots

West Valley City School students, from left, Layla Flaherty, Kye Paul and Madden Williams lead a guided tour of their school on Wednesday for Jaime White and her son Mason, 10, to prepare for their upcoming bond initiative.  (Kathy Plonka/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Millwood voters will have their say on two ballot measures to fund West Valley schools: a $92 million bond and $30 million levy.

The West Valley School Board voted unanimously to approve two resolutions sending the proposals to February ballots.

The bond would tax voters at a rate of $1.46 per $1,000 of assessed property values, an increase of 39 cents from property owners’ current tax bill toward schools. It requires 60% approval from voters.

The levy would be renewed at an estimated rate of $2.44 per $1,000 in assessed property value over the three years after the election. To pass, the levy will need a majority support.

In 2023, the district will collect property taxes at a rate of $3.46, and the proposal would increase this bill to $3.93 per $1,000.

First bond in 20 years

In addition to district-wide improvements, the bond would pay to replace Centennial Middle School, Spokane Valley High School and West Valley City School. It also would add kindergarten classrooms to elementary schools so the Millwood Kindergarten Center could be remodeled for preschoolers. The district’s preschool program currently is located in a building the district leases, set to expire in 2025.

“OK, that was a big moment,” school board President Dan Hansen said after approval of the bond resolution, the first bond the district has pursued in 20 years. “Now it’s up to voters.”

Middle schoolers from City School – a project-based school where students have “jobs,” earn paychecks, even go to court when they misbehave – said while they’re fond of their 100-year-old building, it’s due for an upgrade.

“I think it would be better to have more classrooms to be able to have more students, because there’s so many people that wanted to come to this school this past year,” said Kye Paul, seventh-grader and general manager of the robotics job.

“We really love our school; it’s got a lot of character,” Vivean Donahue, grade eight, said while City School’s hardwood floors creaked under her feet.

Vivean co-manages the aquaculture job with Layla Flaherty, who lead tours of her school with a fat-tailed gecko, Rocky, perched contently on her shoulder. Managing lizards, fish, insects and turtles falls under the aquaculture job; it’s the most sought-after among students.

It’s close quarters for City School pupils – the cramped hallways bring students together, literally and figuratively.

During passing periods, “You can barely move through the halls,” said eighth-grader and judge Riley Gross.

Vivean said students’ classrooms are crowded, but they have spurred friendships she otherwise wouldn’t have made. Namely, with Riley.

Madden Williams, seventh-grader and café manager, said the tight classrooms aren’t ideal for the school’s emphasis on creating projects and presenting rather than traditional school work.

“It kind of gets chaotic sometimes. If everything is happening at once, it gets kind of scary,” Madden said.

Under the bond proposal, City School would share some common spaces with alternative school Spokane Valley High, which was converted from an old bank. Since it wasn’t constructed with education in mind, Spokane Valley High principal Eric Jurasin said they’ve had to put up temporary walls, add portables and find other solutions to accommodate their students.

“Somebody came and toured my school a while back and said, ‘It seems like you keep trying to turn a bank building into a school but it’s still a bank building,’ and that’s true,” Jurasin said.

The school lacks a gym or auditorium. Under the proposal, the two schools would share these facilities, though each level would be taught and remain largely separate.

City school principal Dusty Andres said their unique programing has outgrown the century-old walls of their building.

“For what we want to do to prepare our kids for the community in the 21st century, we’re limited by the facilities we have,” Andres said.

The two said their heating and cooling systems are antiquated. The radiators they use overheat rooms, leading them to open windows. Fuses blow regularly. Some areas of City School school aren’t ADA accessible.

“That’s not very efficient, is it?” Jurasin said.

The levy

Property tax collections from the levy pay for services and staff not funded through the state’s definition of basic education. This includes extra teachers and classified staff, all extracurriculars, counselors and safety staff and maintenance.

Staffing takes the most levy funding, and nearly half of it pays for teachers, counselors, nurses, safety personnel, administration and technology professionals. The entirety of extracurricular programs like sports, music, arts and clubs is funded through levy dollars.

Editor’s Note: This story has been amended to clarify the current layout of City School and Spokane Valley High School.