MENLO — Willapa Valley School District voters recently turned down a levy for the third time in a row by a margin of 53.3% against to 46.7% in favor — 471 votes to 413. District officials are assessing what to do next.
During teacher contract negotiations during the 2019-20 school year, the community was split after a teacher strike closed classrooms and left students at home. Some parents at the time vowed that if the district agreed to the teacher demands, they would work together to ensure future levies failed.
District Superintendent Nancy Morris said she isn’t sure that the parents’ promise is the culprit but admits there is a problem. In response to the first levy failure late last year, the district sent out a survey to the approximately 1,100 district households and barely received a reply, with only 70 sent back.
“We received a mixture of responses, everything from residual anger over the strike — either anger that the teachers called a strike or anger that the district settled — to questions about our roof repair project, to concerns over high taxes, to concerns about hybrid learning [students were in a covid-related class model at that time], to comments about our PWV sports combine, to questions about consolidation with other local districts,” Morris said.
The district hoped for a different outcome during the most recent levy on the ballot this past April and even sent out a letter addressed to the same 1,110 district households about the levy’s importance.
“We worked to make sure our community understood what the levy pays for,” Morris said. “[It explained] the need for the levy, the student services it pays for, and how it is separate from any basic education funding we receive from the state. However, in April, the levy failed for the third time.”
“So, moving forward, the district will continue to work hard and do the best we can to provide the services for our students that our parents and community want and expect. For now, we have chosen not to replace one high school teacher position that is open due to retirement, and we are carefully budgeting for the coming year,” Morris added.
The district does have Federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds to fall back on to help with student learning loss and mental health, along with personal protective equipment and sanitation.
“However, ESSER funds cannot be used for regular ongoing expenses the local levy usually pays for like our normal athletics, our regular custodial hours, our bus drivers, our insurance, or utility expenses, etc.,” Morris said.
“Operating without local levy funding and still providing those services is going to be a challenge, but working together, the Willapa Valley school board and staff will make sure Willapa Valley remains a great place for kids,” Morris added.
The district is not planning to attempt another levy this year.