School Board Update Letter

School Board Update Letter
Posted on 05/05/2020

The Stevenson-Carson School District’s Board of Directors, with four of the five members being seated less than six months, have had to accept a new reality similar to many of you – the only constant is change. The School Board continues to “meet” regularly to do the business of the district even while the mandatory school closure is in progress. The procedure at these meetings has quickly evolved; one of the first lessons learned was remembering to click the mute button, so the feedback didn’t drown out the speaker. We have never had our School Board meetings using an online medium, and I think under better circumstances, we would have taken our time to make sure all the pieces were in place before doing so. We are learning a lot of lessons, and they are part of a more significant transition that will transform our community and change the fabric of what we consider normal. As the School Board and your superintendent, we have the best interests of our students at the center of our focus, and we have many critical decisions. The choices before us are going to be hard for you and us alike.

In early February 2020, the SCSD asked the voters to consider approving a continuation, or renewal, levy for the next three years. The election was certified on February 21, 2020, and was 53 votes shy of approval. The local revenue from this levy would have been used in balancing the district’s 2020-2021 budget and would have provided enrichment activities and additional funding to basic education. Washington state does not yet fully fund some of the elements of “education” that our community desires for every student. We are not alone in seeking approval of a levy to increase the reach and impact of our programs. Over 95% of the School Districts in Washington receive funds from voter-approved levies. Without the approval of this levy in the Stevenson-Carson School District, the new budget could be looking at upwards of $1.7 million in budget reductions.

The School Board, knowing how vital these funds are to the ongoing educational and extracurricular activities for the students and the community, moved to ask voters to consider approving the levy again. On February 20, one day before the levy was officially certified, the school board of directors unanimously approved a resolution to put the three-year replacement levy back on the ballot in April. The resolution was submitted to the Skamania County Auditor’s office, and the citizen’s committee met to begin planning.

On March 12, the school board of directors hired Ingrid Colvard as the next superintendent for the Stevenson-Carson School District (see article published 3/11/2020). Colvard accepted this position, knowing full well that the budget was in crisis, but we had a path forward. However, change was coming.

On March 16, the Stevenson-Carson School District closed the schools as ordered by Governor Jay Inslee. On that same day, the board of directors held an Emergency Meeting to consider the timing of the levy on the April ballot. Amid a statewide school closure, businesses closing and concern of economic distress on the horizon and a statewide “stay home, stay safe” order, the school board, by a unanimous vote, rescinded the levy. We knew the near-term was going to be hard for many of you, and asking you to consider a levy vote did not feel like the right thing to do. This decision was very hard for the board as it meant there was no chance to complete the budget for the next school year without significant cuts to programs.

One month later, on April 16, in a special board meeting, the board discussed the two options left in 2020 to put a request to the voters to continue the school district’s levy: August or November. Due to the economic outlook, the board indicated that November was the best option. During this board meeting, the board received additional information about the budget shortfall, due to no levy dollars, and was tasked with providing the superintendent and the business manager, Kathy McKee, with parameters for building the 2020-2021 FY Budget.

The regularly scheduled board meeting on April 23 began with a budget overview and was followed by the school board grappling with critical questions: Were previously considered summer roofing and paving projects vital? Should the spring 2020 SRS funds ($1 million) be used in balancing the budget? How should the remaining 2020 levy dollars be spent? Is there a way to balance the budget while providing some extracurricular activities to students? The board directed the superintendent and business manager to prepare at least two scenarios for the board’s review at the special meeting scheduled for May 7 at 6:00 p.m.

Incoming Superintendent Ingrid Colvard has been participating in budget scenario planning, as her schedule allows. Colvard is a current elementary principal for the Woodland School District, and she is attending SCSD board meetings and immersing herself in the work where it makes sense before her official start date of July 1. Burning the midnight oil is a phrase worthy of her dedication to both her current position and the position she is about to fill.

Regardless of the scenarios presented and the direction given by the board, the SCSD’s budget for the 20-21 school year will include significant program reductions. There will be hard decisions due to the depth of the cuts. We are all going to feel the effects of these decisions, but we will keep the focus will be on our students. The board will also reconsider whether an August or November levy request is the best choice for our district. But either option, should voters approve the levy, it is too late to include local levy revenue into the budget process. Regardless of the decision, we are and will be looking for your support for our students and the programs the School District provides that benefit our community.

Even with social distancing and Zoom meetings, the Stevenson-Carson School Board holds meetings on the second and fourth Thursday of each month at 7:00 p.m. The agendas, along with Zoom meeting details, are posted at least 24-hours before the meeting. May 7, 2020, is a special board meeting and will begin at 6:00 p.m. We hope you join us.

Respectfully submitted by:
Jeff Wickersham, Board Chair
Karen Douglass, Superintendent