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Ferndale School Board regular meeting at Vista Middle School library (February 25, 2020). Photo: My Ferndale News

Ferndale School Board to take revised levy proposal to voters in April

FERNDALE, Wash. — The Ferndale School Board met tonight, February 25th, at Vista Middle School for a regular meeting. On the agenda was the adoption of a resolution to bring a yet-to-be determined levy proposal to the voters at a future date.

During the public comment segment of the agenda, several students, staff and citizens expressed desires ranging from holding Washington State legislatures and the Federal government to their responsibilities of funding education, not seeing programs and teachers cut to fit a smaller budget, return the levy to the voters again with either a $2.50 or $1.50 mil rate (the property tax rate per $1,000 of assessed property value) and the Chamber of Commerce presented a letter of support of the school district.

Director Dr Kevin Erickson said that it was not simply a case of “no” voters hating kids, rather everyone wants what is best for kids but disagree on how to pay for it.

Director Lee Ann Riddle said she had received recommendations from the public that “were all over the board” about how to go forward. She said she is happy to pay the tax because she sees the results but she was also sympathetic to those living paycheck-to-paycheck. She recommended proposing the levy at a $2.50 mil rate because it is not fair to the community or to staff to use a lower rate.

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Director Melinda Cool said that a levy with a $1.50 mil rate would be too low. “Let’s tighten the belt around our waist, not around our neck,” she said.

Board President and Director Andrew McLaurin said that he feared picking the wrong numbers and having the next levy fail, realizing they would not get another chance to get in front of the voters by law until 2021 if this second levy request did fail. “I’m worried we could end up with absolutely nothing,” he said.

The directors debated the merits of proposing a 2-year instead of a 4-year levy. Dr Erickson said he was concerned that there was no way to know what state funding would look like in the near future.

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Director Cool suggested a $2.00 mil rate for 2-years. She said she saw this as a good compromise position and the District could rely on its cash reserves and make strategic cuts.

McLaurin suggested a $1.50 mil rate for 2-years noting the big gap between the “no” and “yes” votes in the ballot count.

Cool said many voters told her they did not know this was a replacement of a levy and that they did not know what would be lost without this revenue.

Director Jessie Deardorff said she did not want to see any cuts. We need for the community to get behind this. “My vote is not to cut anything,” she said.

The board voted on 2-year levies with mil rates including $2.00, $1.50 and $2.25 and all failed to get enough votes in favor.

Deardorff moved for a 2-year levy at $2.17, mirroring the decision that set the rate for the outgoing levy for 2020.

After the discussion, the board directors approved by a vote of 4 in favor and 1 opposed (McLaurin), an Education and Operations Replacement Levy ballot measure on the April 28th Special Election ballot with a $2.17 mil rate over 2-years.

The board brought a 4-year levy with a $2.50 mil rate ($15,360,000 in property taxes) to the voters in a February 11th Special Election at the same time as all other Whatcom County School Districts. Ferndale’s levy was the only one that failed to get voter approval failing with 56.2% of 8,795 voters opposed.

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