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

Second times the charm? Freeman School District seeks capital levy again after failure in February

A map of Freeman School District.  (Molly Quinn)

Rockford voters may think they’re experiencing a case of deja vu when filling out their ballots for the special election April 23.

The Freeman School District is asking voters to approve a tax levy to pay for safety, security, technology and infrastructure, in a proposal identical to one that failed in February by 47 votes.

The capital levy would tax property owners at an estimated rate of $1.25 per $1,000 in assessed property value, collecting no more than around $5 million over the three-year life of the tax.

The tax would pay for safety upgrades on cameras and access control systems, replacing Chromebooks for students district-wide, making payments on a 2008 bond, repairing the buildings of the district’s three schools, upgrading the campus’ well, improving the parking lot and other possible items – budget permitting.

“Anything that has to do with safety, security, infrastructure, technology for the 52-acre campus is covered by the capital projects levy,” Freeman superintendent Randy Russell said.

Passage of the capital levy would replace the current levy expiring this year at the same rate of $1.25 per thousand.

Freeman voters approved their educational programs and operations levy, which constitutes 14% of the district’s budget and pays for all extracurriculars, additional staffing, some special education and other costs the state won’t pay for.

While their capital levy ask is the same from their proposal on February ballots, the district took a new approach to their communication strategy, publishing a menu of projects and estimated costs associated this time around.

“We learned some really valuable lessons,” Russell said.

If the district’s communication strategy fails to reach the 47 “no” votes on the first ask, Russell said many of the project areas intended to be funded through this tax will need to be addressed through other means. In this case, Russell said the school board would whittle down its project list and make cuts to the general budget, shifting funds to address dire necessities.

“I mean, you can’t run a school district without heating and without lights and without phones and computers and things like that,” he said. “So it would be a combination of both of those.”

Besides the attempt in February, voters have passed the capital levy every year Freeman has asked since 2018. For this, Russell is grateful, he said.

“It’s critical; we have to be able to take care of equipment when it breaks down. We have to be able to replace a washer and dryer when it breaks,” he said. “You know, we’ve got to be able to take care of the parking lots.”

Nestled on the Palouse, the district’s campus includes five buildings. The youngest school building, the elementary school, is 13 years old. The oldest, the middle school, was built in 1990.

“We have a beautiful campus, one of the nicest campuses in the entire Northwest, and we want to take care of it,” Russell said. “It costs money to take care of things.”