Yelm School Board lowers collection rate for second levy attempt

The proposition returns to the ballot on April 23


Yelm Community Schools will take a second shot at approving its replacement education and operations levy. 

If the measure is approved in the April 23 special election, however, the district will collect less money from taxpayers than the amount listed in the first attempt, which would have replaced a levy that expired last year.

After the levy failed in the Feb. 13 special election — 2,779 votes, or 52.96%, against to 2,468, or 47.04% in support, according to final results — the district was tasked with deciding whether to put the proposition back on the ballot in the spring with the same collection rate or a lower amount. 

The school board voted unanimously to lower the rate from $2.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value to $2.25 per $1,000 of assessed value during its school board meeting on Thursday, Feb. 22. The amount is based on assessed property values projected at a 4% growth rate.

If the measure is approved in April, the district projects it would collect about $6,625,000 less than the first levy would have collected over its four-year lifespan. The maximum amount the district would have received from the first levy attempt in 2024-25 was $15.5 million, but that number will now drop to $13,950,000. The district collected a maximum of $12,750,000 from the final year of its current levy in 2024.

Yelm Community Schools has not faced a failed levy proposition since 2004, when the second attempt was approved by voters.

Before the board’s vote, last week, YCS Superintendent Chris Woods told the board and the community in attendance that he was confident in the levy’s ability to succeed.

“I think, as difficult as this is, it’s a blessing for this district. It’s going to force us to take a hard look at why people are voting no or why they are not voting yes,” he said. “It’s going to force us to have some difficult conversations. I think there’s a ton of potential for us moving forward.”

Board member Mark Rohwedder first suggested a lowered rate, asking YCS Chief of Finance & Operations Jennifer Carrougher during her presentation why taxpayers should be asked to pay additional taxes.

“I hear from military families and retired people that are being taxed out of their homes. Why are we asking them to continue to pay more school levy taxes?” he asked.

Carrougher and Woods each responded by pointing to the value of education in the community, maintaining staffing and continuing extracurricular activities for students.

“Schools, unfortunately, are caught between a funding system that is broken and taxpayers who are doing their best to get by,” Woods said. “The bottom line is we wish we didn’t have to ask our taxpayers to foot the bill so that we can provide our kids what they need to be successful.”

Woods added that, regardless of what rate gets approved, cuts will have to be made. He said that districts with double levy failures often have to cut athletics to only varsity teams and drastically reduce other clubs and activities. He said school closures would not be an option if Yelm’s second attempt falls short.

“My short answer is no. We don’t have space to consolidate. We would have to run our current schools, but it would look very different, and our offerings outside of the school day would look very different,” Woods said.

During the presentation, district staff explained specifically how tax dollars are used. Of the $14,007,500 collected in 2023, with an additional near $2 million in state equalization funds, the district said it spent $9,457,000 on basic education, which includes salaries, music/art, instructional and non-instructional support, professional development, instructional technology and extracurricular activities. It also spent $2,319,000 on special education and $2,231,500 on operations, according to its levy presentation during the board meeting. 

The board ultimately approved a resolution to pursue a lowered collection rate but with a warning from the superintendent about the optics of a lowered rate on the ballot.

“The camp in favor of keeping it at $2.50 would say, based on the research, if you’re lowering it now, why didn’t you lower it the first time? If you had the capacity to do that before, why didn’t you?” Woods said. “The other thing it can do in the future when you go out with a levy is it can cause you to once again not pass it the first time because people will assume you’re going to lower it and run it again. At the end of the day, we’ve got to make the best decision for our community.”

Board member Casey Shaw countered in favor of lowering the rate because it would prove to voters that the district is listening to the community’s criticism.

“If taxes are the primary concern of voters, then I think we owe it to them to at least try to come down,” he said.

Ashley Brooks, chair for Citizens for Support of Yelm Schools (C4SYS), said the group determined that the top priorities for voters are trust, transparency and transportation, not so much the levy rate.

“The voters want to trust that their hard-earned money will be placed in programs they value. That won’t be changed by a lesser levy rate,” she said. 

Brooks said during the board meeting, the Board of Directors and district office administration are “now dedicated to being fiscally transparent” and praised them for including points that voters should know, including voter turnout, what the levy funds are specifically used for, and the financial reduction a lower levy rate would cause.

“YCS has an audience that wants to know more. A public forum held at various times of day would be a successful approach to answer questions of importance,” she said. “Regardless of the poor voter turnout, C4SYS will not stop advocating for our community’s children and will fight to get the levy passed. Our signs around town will stay up, and we will be leading a larger effort to supply accurate information to our community.”