Our Views: Upcoming YCS levy vote has long-term implications for students


Residents throughout the Yelm Community Schools (YCS) district will have an important decision to make in the April 23 special election when they vote to approve or reject the educational programs and operations (EP&O) replacement levy, which provides critical funding to the school district. 

Voters resoundingly opposed the last EP&O replacement levy in February’s special election. Among their concerns about the levy were transparency, recurring transportation issues and higher taxes. 

YCS administrators took note and have been very responsive during the latest campaign to pass the levy, for which they should be commended. 

First, YCS Superintendent Chris Woods has met with many community organizations and leaders to talk about the levy and answer their questions, including a recent presentation before the Yelm City Council. 

The district also scheduled a series of informational hearings in both Thurston and Pierce counties. The last one is at 6 p.m. Thursday at Lackamas Elementary in Yelm. People who still have questions about the levy and why it is important to the school district and, most importantly the students and their education, should take the opportunity to attend. 

As well, the YCS communications department has posted extensive information to the district website, answering frequently asked questions including:

What the levy funds go toward (school resource officers, mental health services, teachers, extracurricular activities and technology, to name a few); 

Why YCS needs more funding than what the state provides; 

Didn’t the district pass a bond to cover these costs in 2018 (no, bonds are for building, in this case replacement of Yelm Middle School, Southworth Elementary School and safety and facility upgrades across the district; levies are for learning. Bond funds cannot be used for learning expenses);

What percentage of the district’s budget does the replacement EP&O levy fund (13% or $15.3 million, including a loss of almost $2 million from the state in local education assistance);

If property values go up, will the school district collect more money than it expected (no);

And if the levy fails again, when can it be rerun (February of 2025, with first collection in January 2026, impacting the budget for two years).

All these questions and more are answered on the district’s levy page, https://www.ycs.wednet.edu/Page/4637.

The district has also made strides forward in solving the transportation problems that have frustrated parents this year. As Woods explained, those issues pertained to a staffing shortage and not transportation funding, which comes from the state. The district now has a full complement of bus drivers, including substitutes, to serve students. 

As to residents’ questioning why they should pay more taxes in a time of inflation and if the district shouldn’t be living within its means, YCS responded by lowering the amount of the EP&O levy, which replaces the one voters approved in 2020 at a rate of $2.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value. Now, the district is asking voters to approve a levy rate of $2.25 per $1,000 of assessed property value, despite the fact that, even if it passes, YCS will have to make cuts to reflect the lower amount. The district will also have to account for almost $2 million less in local effort assistance funds, which the state awards when levies pass but districts lose when they fail. 

The logic behind this can be debated another day. 

YCS has already begun to plan for cuts: first to address a budget deficit and then to account for the lower levy amount. At a March 28 school board meeting, YCS Chief of Finance & Operations Jennifer Carrougher said the district has frozen hiring, aside from critical positions. She added it is evaluating all travel as well as ensuring that it is maximizing all of its revenue, as well as claiming all of its available grant funds. 

Those cuts will go deeper should the levy not pass, and the effects will ripple across the school district, resulting in fewer staff and cuts to programs and services. The potential district-wide cuts described in the district’s plan include scaling departments to only essential operations, no technology or new curriculum purchases as well as a reduction of health and safety support, student intervention support, staff training, extracurricular activities and administration. Class sizes would also increase across the district, while building and classroom supplies would be reduced.

Voters now have to decide whether that is the type of education they want for students. 

So many good things are taking place in Yelm Community Schools, and it all begins in the classroom. Do we want students to have fewer services to address their mental health, which has suffered since the COVID-19 pandemic? Do we want schools to have fewer paraeducators for students with additional needs? Do we want schools to have fewer school resource officers who can help respond during emergencies? Do we want students to have fewer extracurricular and athletic opportunities, which not only give them extra direction and things to do, but also supplement what they learn in the classroom by giving them additional outlets for their talents and interests? 

These are all questions voters have to answer, themselves. We hope voters take advantage of all the information out there to help them make the most educated, informed decision in the April 23 special election.