Extracurriculars, sports could be eliminated if $50M Bethel School District levy fails

All non-core education programs in the Bethel School District face elimination if voters don’t pass what amounts to a $50 million levy on April 26. It will be the second time in two months that residents in the district will have voted on the levy.

In February, voters rejected the Educational Programs and Operations Levy 56.07% to 43.93%. Voters in February also rejected a technology levy 53.19% to 46:81%.

Both levies are renewals that will be on the April 26 ballot and do not represent a tax rate increase. If the education levy fails, state law prevents the school board from putting it on the ballot for the third time in a single year.

The board will make the decisions on what programs to eliminate or reduce, and it will have to make cuts.   The levy represents 20% of the district’s operating budget.

"The state funding only really pays for the absolute bare-bones education the kids get," Superintendent Tom Siegel said in an online video about the impacts of a failed levy attempt.

"You will not recognize the Bethel School District for the quality educations programs it supports, because we will not have the money. We will not be able to hire people and will not have the services as a result" he said.

The district says all athletics and activities for students would be cut, including clubs, concerts, dances, performances, plays, and sports.   There would be reductions in the number of teachers, specialists, administrators, library staff, counseling, campus safety staff, and transportation.  

Ninety-eight percent of the levy money would go to personnel.  The district says if the levy fails, there will be larger class sizes at all levels, including elementary, middle school and high school.

"I think it failed [in February] because a lot of parents don't know what the levy was for," said Camas Prairie Elementary School PTA President Catherina DeRosa.

The district’s strategy now is to educate parents about the impacts a levy failure could have.

"Unfortunately, I think it was roughly 15 percent of our parents that voted in the first election," said Kelley Boyten Executive Director of Bethel’s 19 elementary schools. "We believe if more of them engage right now, that’s really going to help us, having their voices heard."

"That to me points to some desperation," said Krista Riche, the mother of a middle schooler.  "It needs to pass this time around, but I can understand the hesitancy of people paying additional taxes."

The district estimates the levy will cost $72 a month in property taxes for homes valued at $350,000.  While the tax rate remains the same as it was when the levy was renewed in 2018, property values the tax is based on have gone up double digits in the district.

The technology levy will be spent on replacing some 20,000 iPads that are four years old.  Voters in 2015 approved the purchase of iPads for every student in the district.

But some parents say they don’t trust the district with more tax money.

"Funds don't go where they are supposed to. I’ve always voted yes, literally probably up to this day," said one grandparent, who did not want to be identified

"Activities are going to be going away, that keep our children busy, the keep them active and engaged and learning," said DeRosa.

If both levies fail, the district can bring them back to the votes, but no sooner than February 2023.

The Bethel School District is the 17th largest in the state with enrollments of roughly 21,000 students

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