YCS superintendent addresses upcoming levy at Yelm City Council meeting


The upcoming educational programs and operations levy has been a hot topic for community members in recent months, and Yelm Community Schools Superintendent Chris Woods addressed the Yelm City Council at its last meeting to discuss the importance of passing the proposed tax.

The levy proposal upon which residents will vote on April 23 is valued at $2.25 per $1,000 of assessed value, 25 cents lower than the original levy presented during the Feb. 13 special election, which failed 2,779-2,468, or  52.96% to 47.04%, according to final counts. 

“As you know, the first time we ran it, it did not pass. After a lot of conversations with folks in the community and feedback, I think there were many reasons why it didn’t pass,” Woods said.

One reason, he said, pertained to transportation issues the school district has faced. Woods explained those issues related to a staffing shortage and not funding. 

“I’m happy to report that we’re fully staffed now, and that is in large part due to our positive leadership in the transportation department,” Woods said. To read more about the transportation department improvements, see page A8.

The superintendent said another reason he believes the original levy failed is because voters wanted more transparency in how levy dollars were being spent. A majority of funding from the levy is spent toward staff, and Woods said without staff, the district can’t provide quality programs or education. 

“Another big reason we heard is that people are tired of paying taxes, and tired of having to pay more for the same thing,” Woods said. “Really, my comment to that has been ‘I hope that people will not penalize our students for a broken system.’ I think we all admit that our funding system for public education is not perfect and it does not meet our needs. This is the mechanism we have to try to make up that difference — through levies.

“I’m here this evening in hopes that you as individuals, or as a group, would be willing to support us as we go out and ask our voters to support the levy,” Woods added. 

Funds from the current levy will expire in December of 2024.

Woods also applauded Teri Melone, YCS career technical education and communications coordinator, for her efforts in putting together information to present to district voters.

“She’s been spending hours and hours putting together factual information for our community to have in response to questions or concerns they may have had the first time we ran the levy,” Woods said. “I just hope our community will come out and vote and support the levy for our students. We have a lot of great examples of what Yelm Community Schools has done. You don’t have to go very far, whether it’s teachers in our classrooms that’ve also graduated from Yelm, professionals in our community, those who have their own businesses, those who have become doctors or lawyers and returned to Yelm. You don’t have to look far to see examples of successful students, who are successful in large part because of Yelm Community Schools and the programs they were exposed to while they were here.”

Councilor Joseph Richardson said he was caught off guard to learn that YCS is reliant on the levy to provide school resource officers (SROs) on school campuses. Woods said he’s had the luxury of having SROs at every school in districts where he’s worked, including Capital High School, Tumwater High School and Yelm. 

“We do not get funding to pay for SROs, so that’s something we use our levy dollars for. Everywhere I’ve been, as an educator, I’ve had the luxury of having SROs,” Woods said. “I saw the support that we have for our SROs, and when Officer [Donald] Moody was here, we had someone that had been here for over 25 years. We had another police officer that was officer of the year (Chris Seymour), and we had another officer that was also coaching bowling (Averie Ford). Our officers are not just police officers: They’re members of our staff. They’re a part of our family. They build relationships with our students, and many times, our students go to them for advice and support.

“They’re not just there for the physical safety, but they’re also there for the social, emotional and mental health safety of our students and staff,” Woods continued. “I think if you asked anybody in our district, they’d tell you [SROs] are a part of our family.”

Councilor Joshua Crossman noted that Woods described state funding for schools as a “broken system” and asked him if he’s doing anything to promote a way to fix that system.

“It’s bigger than Yelm,” Woods said. “This is a funding system statewide. We have lobbyists, and many of us as superintendents across the state are meeting with our legislators. They hear from us a lot. We are telling them over, and over, and over again that this is not sustainable and that at some point, they need to fully fund education like the law tells them they need to.” 

Councilor Brian Hess noted that Woods mentioned transparency, and stated that residents used to be able to find salaries scheduled per position, which included administrators and other positions. Hess said he’s unable to locate those numbers on the YCS webpage. 

“Could you please get that information out like it used to be,” Hess asked. “It used to be the budget. You could read the whole budget. It would say administrator and various other things, not names, just the position that was being held.” 

Councilor Trevor Palmer thanked Woods for attending the City Council meeting and bringing up his concerns. He agreed with him about the system being broken.

“It’s important for the public to know that, in 2012, the state Supreme Court found the state in contempt of fulfilling their constitutional obligation to fund education,” Palmer said. 

He added that the state is not fulfilling its obligation to provide funding to schools around Washington. 

The school district will host a series of informational forums about the levy next week, including on April 9 at Yelm Cinemas. Woods said the movie theater will host three forums, including at 8:30 a.m., noon and 6 p.m.

McKenna Elementary will host a forum at 6 p.m. on April 10, and another event will take place at 6 p.m. on April 11 at Lackamas Elementary.

For more information on the levy, visit https://www.ycs.wednet.edu/Page/4637.