Voters asked to approve new taxes to pay for improvements

Voters in Burbank, Wallula, Charbonneau and all points between will be asked next month to approve new property taxes to pay for their schools.

Columbia School District has proposed two tax levies for the Feb. 8 special election. Ballots are mailed out Friday.

The proposed measures are for a maintenance and operational levy and a technology levy. They would take the place of levies that expire this year.

The maintenance levy requests $1.95 million beginning in 2012 for the next four years. To collect that amount, the district estimates it needs a property tax levy of $3.69 per $1,000 of property value, or $369 for a $100,000 home.

That would be slightly lower than the current maintenance levy rate of $3.75 per $1,000 of assessed value.

The technology levy would bring in $275,000 per year for the next four years, which would require a tax levy of 52 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, or $52 for a $100,000 home. That rate is unchanged from the current one.

The two levies require separate votes, so voters potentially could pass one and reject the other. But both are desperately needed, said Debbie Williams, district business manager.

"There are a lot of activities kids would miss out on without this money," she said. Local tax money makes up about 20 percent of the district's budget.

One thing students would miss out on would be catching a bus to school across a four-lane highway. The state only pays for transporting kids who live farther than one mile from school. But in Burbank, walking a mile can mean having to cross Highway 12, the main connector between the Tri-Cities and Walla Walla.

Students don't have to make that walk because the district pays for bus service for every child from its local levy, Williams said.

State money also doesn't pay for keeping class sizes low in grades K-4, which has been found to have a positive impact on student learning. The district has used local money to hire two extra teacher's aides in kindergarten and one additional teacher in each grade from first to fourth. Their salaries would continue to come out of the levy money.

The district also increased its kindergarten hours to four full days per week last year. The state only pays for half days.

Parents' reactions to the change have been overwhelmingly positive, Williams said. The district would use levy money to maintain the full days for the next four years.

The technology levy would help continue a project the district started last year -- electronic whiteboards that mainly are used in the elementary school so far. The tech levy also would bring the computer-driven boards to every classroom in the middle and high schools. The levy also pays for technology staff to keep up the schools' servers and train teachers on digital devices.