While Yelm Community Schools places a replacement levy on the ballot every four years, the 2024 edition on the Feb. 13 special election ballot may fund more crucial services for students than other years.
The Educational Program and Operations (EP&O) levy is not a new tax, and the maximum levy amount that the district can collect is the same as the previous levy — $2.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value. But the levy, which makes up about 13% of the district’s budget, helps fund resources that have become increasingly important for Yelm students since the previous levy was approved in 2020, such as mental health services, campus security and technology.
Teri Melone, Yelm Community Schools’ communications director, said the services that the levy helps fund are not just for enrichment as they were decades ago.
“I’ve been in education for 28 years as an employee, but I was also a child of the education system. My parents were in education,” she said. “Over time, there’s been this change of how the levies are supporting enrichment versus supporting things that we now look at as core aspects of education. Without them, it’s a different experience. These aren’t just add-ons.”
If the levy is approved, half of every EP&O levy dollar collected will be spent on teaching and learning; 25 cents will be used for support services; 15 cents will fund operations; and 10 cents of every dollar would support athletics and activities, according to the district.
Superintendent Chris Woods said the social and emotional piece has become “a priority” for the district since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the levy would help fund staffing and resources for mental health services. In the previous school year, former Superintendent Brian Wharton assembled students from Yelm High School and the middle schools to form a superintendent advisory council, which found that the top issue concerning students was mental health.
“Out of that, we’ve been able to create some resources available to our high school and middle school students that they can access 24 hours a day, whether it’s a person to contact for the specific need, a phone number to call, resources to read through, and staffing to support our students,” Woods said. “That requires more staffing than just our counselors at the schools.”
Melone said Yelm Community Schools also hopes to support the families within the district to give them the tools and resources to help their children.
The importance of the levy may be obvious for parents and former students within the district to understand, but it may not be as clear for residents without children in the district or for those new to the area.
“I want them to know that they’re making an investment in the community. Even though they may not have children in the schools, these are students that are going to hopefully be positive, contributing members of our community,” Woods said. “They’re investing in the future of not just our community, but beyond our community.”
District officials want to remind voters that levies are used for learning and that bonds are used for building. Therefore, the replacement levy does not fund construction projects and transportation, among other things, that the state, grants and bonds help pay for.
The state does not provide funding for student activities or athletics, which are a big piece of the replacement levy. It also supports 14.5 positions in order for students to receive health and safety services equally across the district.
Woods said he appreciates the passion from voters, as well as from local businesses in Yelm and community members waving signs on sidewalks.
“It’s nice to have a community that cares so much about our students, our schools and our educators,” he said. “We just appreciate people voting. It’s really important that people take that step, regardless of how you feel about the ballot measure, to get out and vote.”