Levy & Bond FAQ
What is the difference between a levy and a bond?
Levies are for learning! Levies are used to pay for educational programs the state does not fully fund or in some cases like athletics, not fund at all. In White River, the levy funds student opportunities in arts, music and athletics, as well as mental health services, early learning, special education, teachers, nurses, counselors, campus security officers, paraeducators and playground staff. Bonds are restricted to sites and buildings, including structural changes and additions to existing facilities. Bonds are paid back over the long term, similar to a mortgage - typically 17 to 20 years.
What does the District’s total tax rate pay for?
The District’s tax rate is made up of three different layers; the bond, a Capital levy, and the Educational Programs & Operations (EP&O) levy. The bond passed in 2016 funded our major building projects, like the expansion of Elk Ridge Elementary, Wilkeson Elementary, Glacier Middle School and the Early Learning Center. The capital levy will fund slightly smaller projects, like structural, safety and energy repairs at White River High School, paving and road improvements, roofing repairs, and technology equipment for students and staff. The EP&O levy funds student opportunities in arts, music and athletics, as well as mental health services, early learning, special education, teachers, nurses, counselors, campus security officers, paraeducators and playground staff.
What will the total tax rate be?
The tax rate is expected to go down. The chart below shows the actual 2021 and 2022 tax rates, along with the projected tax rates going forward. The expected decrease is a result of asking for slightly less than in previous years, and an increase in the district’s assessed valuation (as assessed valuation increases, the rate per thousand decreases). Continued growth in the community can also result in additional increases.
What is the District proud of accomplishing?
The District’s graduation rate is nearly 96.4%. This exceeds the State graduation rate of 81%. In the last three years, White River High School students have generated over $6M in scholarship awards. 70% of high school graduates go on to attend either a two or four year college, university or trade school. We have been able to present an incredible balance of course offerings at the high school to include CTE, AP, dual credit and numerous art and music opportunities.
Our schools have received state and national awards for academic excellence. Mountain Meadow Elementary school is the highest performing elementary school in Pierce County and #20 of all schools in Washington State as reported by U.S. News & World Report. Hundreds of educators visit the district each year to observe the work of our teacher teams. We have been honored to host a number of national and international conferences at our district. Books and journal articles have been written about the educational practices in the White River School District.
We are also proud of the athletic success and tradition at White River High School. In the last five years, 38 teams have won the South Puget Sound League championships and dozens of State tournament appearances including two State Championships and several top ten finishes. Our teams have also been recognized with 11 Team Sportsmanship Awards as well as an academic State Title. We are equally proud of the 27 coaches who have received Coach of the Year honors.
We are very pleased to offer preschool to our youngest learners at no cost to parents. We are also very fortunate to have integrated leading edge technology instruction in our classrooms.
How was the District able to respond so quickly to educating our students during the COVID pandemic?
To pivot to remote learning we needed teacher and student devices, internet, and know-how. Beginning in 2015, we systematically purchased a Chromebook for each student in grades 2nd-12th. With full efforts by the White River Tech Team and community volunteers, we were able to check these devices and charging cords out to students via our library system in the two days before the Stay at Home order. To meet the challenge of internet connectivity, we immediately reached out to numerous vendors to lock-in a large purchase of wireless internet hotspots. Before students left school on March 12th, teachers surveyed their students to determine who needed the internet in their home. Our staff preparation started much earlier.
Beginning in September 2014, following the passage of White River's first technology levy, teachers began annually taking courses on how to use: the same cloud-based productivity and collaboration software, Google Classroom to distribute and collect assignments, and digital assessment software for assessing student learning. In the school year 2014, 94% of teachers participated in this professional development, which has become known as "Tech Time."
As a result of this professional development, we were more prepared than some teachers in other districts to pivot to remote learning. This early foundational support by a dedicated education technology trainer focused teachers on developing and improving their skill with core technology based tools that served a specific learning purpose versus a wide variety of tools. The pandemic pushed us to learn more tools, such as Zoom and screencasting. The lift to remote learning was easier because we had professional development structures in place and our teachers were not frightened of learning technology and had previously learned and mastered other tech tools successfully.
Since 2014, over 500 sessions have been offered to White River teachers. Our digital trainer has over 50 online courses available to our staff that are specifically designed for White River teachers and paraeducators. Our educators also have cloud-based access to their unit plans and lessons of their teammates for collaboration from anywhere they need to access them.
This learning can't stop. Technology continues to become more sophisticated and integrated in our daily lives and workforce jobs. This access by teachers to specific high quality professional development will help our students grow as digital citizens prepared for the 21st Century. Teachers must continue being taught how to model, teach and provide opportunities for students to collaborate, communicate, think critically and creatively use digital tools.
We have certainly seen the value of our nurses in schools throughout COVID. Nurses lead all of our COVID testing which has kept students in school rather than in quarantine. In addition, nurses administer medication, provide nursing assessments, create Health Care Plans for students, locate resources for medical needs, perform vision and hearing screenings, and assist with absence management. In White River, we currently have 356 students with Individual Health Plans to ensure their safety while at school. Of those plans, 324 of them are for life-threatening health conditions. On average, 50-70 students visit each nurse’s office daily! The state funds less than one full time nurse; local levy dollars have allowed us to have a nurse in each building as well as a nursing supervisor that oversees and guides their work.
What do counselors and mental health professionals in our schools do?
Counselors have been invaluable during the COVID pandemic. 10 Counselors provide instruction to students on anti-bullying and support for social skills. They meet students and peers to problem solve, and coordinate with teachers, principals and families on plans of support. They ensure on-time graduation and help students pursue post-high school options. Throughout our COVID experience our counselors have been connecting with students online, over the phone, and in-person to keep students connected to caring adults at school, to continue support programs students need for their personal growth, checking in on students who were disengaged from learning, and provided crisis counseling to those who either self-referred or were referred by others. Our mental health professionals connect students with therapists, provide mental health awareness, suicide prevention and healthy coping skills. They also target groups for trauma and skill building with our students in special educational behavior programs. With the well-documented rise in mental health needs as a result of this current pandemic it has become even more critical to provide mental health professionals for our students and staff. Filling that need is increasingly falling on the shoulders of our school counselors as well, as students in crisis will first look to those that they trust the most, which is most often our school counselors.
Why isn’t special education fully funded by the state?
Approximately 597 students in the White River School District receive special education and related services, from birth through 21. The federal and state funding models do not provide adequate funding to provide the necessary services for our special education students. Currently, the special education budget is subsidized by the levy by almost 1 million dollars. This means dollars are taken out of the general budget to support special education costs. The majority of our Special Education dollars pay for staffing such as school psychologists, teachers, paraprofessionals, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and speech-language pathologists. These dollars also pay for professional development, supplies and materials, assistive technology, and transportation.
Why should I care about saving preschool?
Our data shows us that students who participate in our early learning programs go into Kindergarten with the skills they need for success! We started preschool in 2016. This year, we have 92 preschoolers. Early learning success is a predictor of high school graduation!
If arts, drama, music, and athletics rely heavily on local levy dollars, what do sports fees and fundraisers pay for?
ASB fees pay for things like athletic transportation, officials and referees, event workers and supervision, sports equipment, entry and tournament fees, trainers, and membership and league fees. Booster Clubs also help with the cost of uniforms, some trips and travel, and extra athletic equipment.
What happened to the money from the last levy that was supposed to go to athletics and preschool? Since March of 2020 students weren't allowed to participate in sports nor were children going to preschool. So there should be an extra pot of money somewhere. Why not use that money?
During the 2020-2021 school year students did participate in athletics at both the middle and high school levels. There were intramural sports for students at Glacier Middle School because White River was the only district in the Plateau League to offer athletics to students. Moreover, White River High School athletes were among the first in the Puget Sound region to return to the court, field, and track last year when we began workouts in the fall of 2020 and continued to offer organized practices, workouts, and training sessions until WIAA announced its modified athletic season schedule beginning mid-year last year. While our sports seasons had non-traditional schedules and modified seasons, athletes participated in high school athletics last year. During the 2021-2022 school year we continue to provide both middle and high school athletics and activities that are very similar to pre-pandemic seasons except for response protocols that you see in athletics at all levels. The voter-approved levy dollars have been used to support these programs and the opportunities they provide for our kids.
Beginning March of 2020 White River children attended both preschool and early kindergarten online and received learning packets from their classroom teachers. All preschool and early learning teachers, support staff, and administrative staff continued to work to support students and families. Actually, our preschool and early kindergarten students were first to return to in-person learning in late November of 2020. Many students were receiving support on campus beginning September 2020. Individual educational supplies were also purchased to keep students safe and learning.
Didn’t you receive a lot of federal funding related to COVID? What happened to those funds?
The White River School District did receive federal funding related to COVID, called ESSER funds. However, these funds were not distributed evenly amongst districts in Washington based on the number of students that each district serves. Instead, the funds were distributed based on a formula whereby districts with higher rates of census poverty received substantially more ESSER funds than our district. This, combined with the fact that we incurred the real costs of opening our schools to in-person learning included furniture, PPE, nursing staff, hot spots and technology, additional equipment for reopening schools, incurring additional substitute costs for staff out due to COVID leave, etc. has resulted in the expenditure of these limited resources dedicated to reopening our schools.
What about enrollment in the White River School District? Is it declining like we are hearing in other school districts?
We are excited to report that our enrollment for the 21/22 school year has increased by almost 5% over what the district budgeted, and is the highest it has been in over a decade
Where can I get important voting information?
To find information about voting and upcoming elections, visit the Pierce County Elections website here. Register to vote, update your mailing address, or find out the voting results release schedule.
Ballot drop boxes are conveniently located and postage free:
123 S River Rd
Buckley, WA 98321
South Prairie Fire Department
350 SR 162 E
South Prairie, WA 98385
Wilkeson Town Hall
540 Church St
Wilkeson, WA 98396
Orting Public Safety Building
401 Washington Ave SE
Orting, WA 98360