As the leader of our school district, it's disheartening to read and hear comments from our residents whose complaint is that they don't trust the district. I understand completely that trust must be earned, and I don't expect it to be an easy task in a community where trust in district matters has eroded in the past. Even though those issues occurred five years and three superintendents ago, I know that it is up to me and my staff to do everything we can, every day, to earn our community’s trust.
We strive to be open and transparent as we inform our community about district activities. Our hope is that you can trust that we are presenting the facts, and that we have no other agenda than to provide safe and secure learning environments in which to prepare our students to lead successful lives after graduation.
I’d like to provide some examples of the hard work that has gone into earning your trust.
Good stewards of taxpayers’ dollars
For the fourth consecutive year, the State of Washington has reviewed our financial documents and given the Battle Ground Public Schools district a “clean” audit. This means that in the areas of Accountability, District Financials and Federal Grant Compliance, the state auditors found no “uncorrected statements” or “material misstatements” in their audit of our district. To quote the report, “In those selected areas, District Operations complied with applicable state laws, regulations, and its own policies and provided adequate controls over the safeguarding of public resources.” The full report is available on the State Auditor's website: portal.sao.wa.gov/ReportSearch.
In addition to the yearly review by the State Auditor, Battle Ground Public Schools has implemented its own internal controls. A board audit committee conducts monthly reviews of receipts, contracts, and timesheets, including mine.
Transparency with bonds and levies
We understand that property taxes can be a heavy burden on our citizens, and it is critically important that we keep that in mind as we ask voters to support our schools. When our long-range facilities plan was put together by the citizens group that met for two years, not only did they consider the needs of the district, but they also tried to engineer each phase of the plan to be funded by a bond that would maintain a reasonable tax rate for our community over time.
Of course, things have changed since the initial bond proposal went to voters. This year the State Legislature raised the state schools levy tax to meet the Supreme Court order to fully fund schools according to the State Constitution, and also voted to cap local school district levies. The added state levy dollars will only fund operating costs such as staffing, educational programs, books and activities. And while local levy dollars can pay for the maintenance and operations of existing buildings, those funds cannot be used for building new or remodeling older buildings. Likewise, if the April 24 school construction and renovation bond were to pass, none of those dollars can go toward teacher or administrator salaries except those individuals planning or working on the bond projects themselves.
These changes that the State Legislature has made to school tax rates make it difficult for us to keep track of and explain the impact of those changes on taxpayers. During this process we have provided information about both the local district levy and bond rates and the state schools levy rate.
While we have touted that because of the changes, next year’s tax rates will take a downward turn from this year’s rate of $7.02 per thousand of assessed property value to approximately $5.67 per thousand, we do not pretend to predict what each individual citizen’s tax bill will be. Depending on where you live, your property taxes may also support local fire and police services. In addition, we will not try to estimate what the tax rate will be beyond 2019 as there will be another legislative session with a new state budget, and assessed values may change, causing what may or may not be a difference from the 2019 rate.
If you were to take a drive around the south end of the Battle Ground district, you would see a tremendous amount of home construction. You could almost predict by that visual that in the next several years the population of our district will dramatically increase. However, it was important to our school board that we get accurate information about the timing of that growth. With our oldest schools (Glenwood/Laurin and Pleasant Valley primary and middle) in that area, it is critical that we know when the wave of new students will come. Those schools already have several portable buildings on site and are above capacity in their core facilities such as gyms, libraries and office spaces for nurses, counselors, etc.
We commissioned an independent research firm to do an enrollment forecast analysis. Knowing that this current bond is phase one of three phases, and that the projects on this bond would be built over the next six years, we wanted to know growth projections for the immediate future. The enrollment analysis by E.D. Hovee and Company predicts that in the next 10 years, our district could see anywhere between 1,535 and 2,735 additional students. The Hovee report predicts that the growth will occur slowly over the next two years (this year we have seen a net gain of 170 plus students over last year) and then climb rapidly in the lower grades across years four through six. High school growth is predicted to occur six to eight years from now, about the time that we would look to build a third high school program in the second phase of the long-range facility plan.
If you have additional questions, please contact us. Or, go to our website battlegroundps.org for more information. We want to do what is best for all the students and staff in Battle Ground Public Schools, and we want our community to be proud of our schools. Great schools are the cornerstone of great communities. We can’t make that happen without you.