Election View: Renewing levy keeps Ferndale schools strong

Cheerleaders rally before a Ferndale High School football game in 2015.
Cheerleaders rally before a Ferndale High School football game in 2015. The Bellingham Herald

First, I want to thank the Ferndale community for supporting its public schools. The Ferndale School District formed in 1941 when people realized that a strong public education system was central to a thriving community. For decades, the district has maintained a reputation for excellence in education, recognized across the state as a place where educators want to work and parents want to send their children.

Today we continue that tradition by educating 4,700 students from pre-kindergarten through grade 12 in two high schools, two middle schools and six elementary schools. Students in Ferndale experience strong music, athletic and art programs, in addition to academics. Our high school students benefit from the opportunity to enroll in eight classes per year (instead of six offered by most other high schools in the region), which allows them to take advantage of the largest Career & Technical Education program in Whatcom County and a number of college credit courses. Nearly 70 percent of our students are involved in one or more extracurricular activity. Teachers in the school district have an average of 15.3 years of classroom experience (higher than the state average), and 69 percent of them have a master’s degree or higher (more than the state average).

Renewing this levy will help to maintain the strong system of public education our forefathers knew was central to a thriving community.

The strength of the Ferndale School District derives from its community. Members of the community have given their time as partners and volunteers. They have helped to nurture and support the young people who attend our schools. They have communicated in these and other ways that hard work, personal accomplishment, and service are values we hold dear. The members of the Ferndale community have also supported our schools with financial resources. Specifically, they have passed every maintenance and operations levy for Ferndale schools since 1977.

The maintenance and operations levy, which comes from taxes on property, allows the school district to maintain the current operation in its schools. It constitutes approximately one quarter of the total operating budget.

The current levy (passed in 2012) will expire at the end 2016. This week, the citizens of Ferndale will receive ballots in the mail asking them to renew the levy for another four years beginning in 2017. It is sometimes referred to as a replacement levy because it is not asking voters to approve a new tax. Rather, it is asking them to replace the one that is expiring.

The levy funds several significant aspects of the educational program in Ferndale. As conversation starters for getting the word out, our staff members and community supporters have been wearing buttons with one of four percentages on each one. People who see the buttons generally ask for an explanation. Here it is:

27.5 percent — The portion of each teacher’s salary that comes from the levy.

66 percent — The portion of all classified jobs that are paid for out of the levy. (This means the salaries of two out of every three administrative assistants, para-educators, bus drivers, custodians, maintenance, and food service personnel come from levy dollars.)

100 percent — The portion of the district’s financial support for extracurricular activities (athletics, music, drama, the arts, Math Olympiad, and all other clubs) that comes out of the levy.

0 percent — The increase taxpayers will realize if the levy passes. (In other words, tax rates will stay the same.)

The levy also pays for classroom supplies, safety measures, and part of our transportation services not covered by the state.

The levy does not pay for new buildings. Constructing new buildings requires a bond, which is like a mortgage on a house that eventually has to be repaid with interest. (To help us make the distinction, we say, “levies are for learning and bonds are for building.”) The need to update and renovate our schools is real. However, in light of feedback regarding the unsuccessful bond in 2014, the Ferndale School Board decided to postpone running another bond for school facilities until we can develop a proposal reflecting more community input.

The issue at hand today is the maintenance and operations replacement levy. Renewing this levy will help to maintain the strong system of public education our forefathers knew was central to a thriving community.

Thank you again for supporting Ferndale schools.

This is one in a series of columns about Whatcom County school levies. Linda Quinn is superintendent of the Ferndale School District. Ballots will be mailed Jan. 20 with drop boxes open from that date until 8 p.m. Feb. 9. One 49-cent stamp is required if you mail your ballot. It must be postmarked by Feb. 9.