Whitman community supports Walla Walla education levy

Rachel Alexander

Photo by Marin Axtell; Graphic by Ted Hendershot

With an election coming up, Walla Walla has been blanketed by campaign signs urging residents to “Vote YES for Kids.” On Feb. 14, 2012, voters will decide whether to replace the current school levy, which expires at the end of 2012, for another four years.

The current levy, approved by voters in 2008, makes up approximately 20 percent of the school district’s operating budget. Levy dollars pay for extracurricular programs, including athletics, arts, Future Farmers of America and drama programs. Many regular school activities are also supported by the levy, including elementary school physical education, Advanced Placement classes at Walla Walla High School and the district’s gifted program.

Aside from the educational benefits for students, Superintendent of Walla Walla Public Schools Mick Miller said the levy will positively affect Walla Walla’s economy.

“It’s going to employ a bunch of people in Walla Walla,” he said.

Many salary needs for the district are not completely funded by the state. Miller said that about a third of staff salaries are paid for out of levy money.

Whitman community members have worked on the campaign for approving the replacement levy. Shauna Bogley, a Whitman alumna with three children in Walla Walla Public Schools, chairs the Citizens for Schools committee, which campaigns for the levy.

“I really believe in making our schools strong,” she said. “I’ve been a classroom volunteer for thirteen years, and I see how much the levy benefits the children of Walla Walla.”

She said that Walla Walla has always approved past levies. For her, the biggest challenge is making sure that people remember to vote, so that election results reflect the strong support for schools in Walla Walla.

“We need every yes vote we can get,” she said. “We don’t want [the levy] to just slide by.”

Whitman students who have worked in schools see the benefits of levy dollars in the classroom. Senior Nina Neff, who works with Gear-Up, a college readiness program, said that many of the resources supporting her students are funded by the levy. Even with current levy money, Walla Walla High School students are sometimes missing textbooks or other resources that would help with after-school tutoring. Neff sees the levy as a crucial way of maintaining equal education for all students.

“Whitman wants to be in a community where there’s equitable opportunity for success. In order to do that, there just have to be the resources that will allow students to prepare for college,” she said.

Leslie, an Americore volunteer helps Jasmin from Green Park Elementary with her homework during the after school Homework Club, funded by the levy dollars. Credit: Marin Axtell

President George Bridges and other Whitman staff wrote a letter in support  of the levy to the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin. In it, they highlight the importance of strong schools for creating a good community.

“Strong public schools benefit not only children in the Walla Walla Valley; they also are magnets drawing successful businesses, talented workers and community leaders to our area,” they wrote.

Assistant Director of Off-Campus Studies Barbara Hoffman echoed this sentiment. Hoffman has worked for the levy campaign, and believes that the presence of a good public school system in Walla Walla helps Whitman attract talented staff.

“Walla Walla public schools do a great job of educating our children, and having a good school system brings strong staff and faculty to Whitman College,” she said.

Hoffman pointed out that Walla Walla has many English as a Later Language (ELL) students, as well as relatively high poverty rates.

“Because of that, our job as a school district is a tough one: to make sure all children are educated,” she said.

Credit: Marin Axtell

She pointed out that many affluent parents might be able to make up for a lack of extracurricular activities by hiring private teachers and paying for after school classes. Levy dollars allow for equal opportunity to participate.

“I want to make sure that everybody in our community has access to those resources,” she said.

Associate Professor of Sociology Michelle Janning is also in favor of the levy.

“I come from a long line of public school teachers, so I strongly support public education,” she said.

She also believes that strong schools in Walla Walla can serve as a model for Whitman students who are interested in education, especially because of all the challenges facing the district.

Janning has a son enrolled at Green Park Elementary, and sees the levy-funded programs as an investment in the future.

“It’s a really good use of taxpayer money,” she said. “If you have success in teaching children at early ages, they are better at coping with things later in life. It’s a good economic investment.”

Although she doesn’t like to publicly show her support for election measures, Janning made an exception for the levy.

“I don’t put signs in my yard,” she said. “I put a sign in my yard for this one.”