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White River board, staff pleased with levy results

White River School District leaders, board members and staff were all smiles after Feb. 9 election results were posted.

Voters approved the district’s four-year maintenance and operation levy with an overwhelming 68.35 percent.

For a district that sometimes struggled to pass levies in the past, 68 percent warranted a celebration, especially since the district needed to clear just 50 percent, rather than the 60 percent of past years.

“We’re looking at this as validation of the work we’ve been doing the past few years,” White River Superintendent Tom Lockyer said. “The parents are recognizing it and we are humbled and honored by their support. We will continue to do the work. It gives us our marching orders to continue what we’re doing.”

Equally impressive for Lockyer was voter turnout which was more than 46 percent. Lockyer and school board members referred to the levy passage as a team victory. They said the commitment of students, certificated and classified staff and parents to picket, doorbell and register people to vote was the key.

“Your efforts made a difference,” Lockyer said.

Enumclaw didn’t have the swell of support of White River, at least not as of Thursday, although the mail-in ballots keep arriving, but at 57.75 percent and 40.10 percent turnout, it was enough to pass and cover the district for four more years.

“We’re incredibly grateful to have jumped over that hurdle,” Superintendent Mike Nelson said. “It’s 19 percent of our budget.”

Nelson said he was also thankful for the simple majority, especially in these tough economic times.

“It’s a huge relief,” Nelson said. “We fully recognize it’s a hard time to mark yes on a ballot.”

Failure for either district would have meant big losses to their budget. When the state cut funding last year, White River was forced to trim its budget by almost $4 million. Enumclaw slimmed down by $2.1 million.

That meant teachers lost their jobs and programs were halted.

“I think that was a reference point for people,” White River School Board President Denise Vogel said during the board’s regular meeting Feb. 10. “We just went through it. They know what $4 million in budget cuts looks like.”

The levy helps the district maintain, but district leaders are now waiting to see how the state budget shakes out. If it goes as predicted, each district could stand to lose millions in funding again.

Nelson said he is closely watching kindergarten through fourth-grade funding. He said the most recent proposed cuts in that area would cost his district $750,000 and increase class sizes significantly.

“It’s a great victory for us,” Lockyer said of the levy. “But now we will have to be vigilant in making sure the Legislature lives up to its responsibilities.”

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