Numerous Ferndale School District staff from a wide array of departments – from teaching to transportation – all agreed that levy funding had a direct, positive impact on the students they serve. And they, along with some community members and local public officials, urged the public to read up on the district’s School Programs and Operations Levy, up for renewal during the Feb. 8 special election.
“The levy, it funds the stuff you don’t normally see in a classroom setting,” said Alvaro Vicente Ortiz, an English Language Learner teacher at Ferndale High School. “It makes students’ high school experience a lot greater.”
In Washington, the state does not fully fund K-12 education, and voter-approved local levies bridge that funding gap. During the Feb. 8 special election, a replacement levy for Ferndale School District will be on the ballot. This levy is not a new tax – if it passes, the local levy tax rate will remain at $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed home value, which is a lower rate than every school district in Whatcom County except for Blaine.
Levy dollars pay for all sorts of aspects of a student’s education: academic programs like career and technical education, advanced learning courses and a full, 8-period high school schedule. Ferndale schools also maintain staffing through levy dollars. The salaries of 86% of the district’s nurses are paid with the levy, and same with 150 support staffers like paraeducators.
Tammy Alejandre, who has taught second grade at Eagleridge Elementary School since 1996, said levy-funded support staff help her students in a myriad of ways. Educational assistants provide oneon-one educational assistance with struggling students, nurses assist her students with health concerns like diabetes, and paraeducators keep students safe at recess and during student pick-up and drop-off.
If the levy doesn’t pass, Alejandre said she worries that safety could get pushed to the side. “We need people outside greeting the kids, reminding them to walk safely in, and making sure they get to the right place,” she said. “That’s a big thing families don’t realize: our paraeducators who do recess duty and such are really focused on making sure our kids are safe.”
For older students, paraeducators working in the classroom alongside teachers can help students who are struggling earn their diploma, said Tina Harmer, a behavioral paraeducator at Ferndale High School.
“My worry is that this replacement levy doesn’t pass, the people we need to get the kids to the finish line are not going to be there,” Harmer said. “If we’re not there, then kids don’t have that support they need.”
Levy dollars help fund field trips and extracurricular travel – like sports competitions and club events – for students. If the levy fails and those trips are cancelled, this would directly affect Ferndale’s bus drivers, according to Lewann Eggert, the manager of the district’s transportation department. “It not only takes away from students’ sports and extracurricular activities … but it also takes from the drivers’ income,” she said. “This is basically a part-time job, so they count on that extra money.”
Levy dollars fund many extracurricular opportunities for students, like athletics, music, drama and clubs like Math Olympiad. Vicente is the advisor for MEChA Club at FHS, which is centered around Latino culture. The levy funding allows him to take students in the club on college visits to the University of Washington or Washington State University, he said.
Laurie Bianco, the music teacher at Skyline Elementary, said extracurriculars like music are critical for helping students discover their passions. Growing up in Minnesota, neither of her parents were musicians – but she fell in love with music after starting to play the French horn in school, which led to her eventual career, she said.
“That’s what the levy helps our kids in Ferndale do – have all sorts of choices, so they can try anything, and then decide what it is that makes them happy, and then pursue that as a career,” she said.
High school and middle school athletic programs could take a huge hit if the levy doesn’t pass, said Eric Tripp, assistant principal and athletic director at FHS. A failed levy could result in the elimination of junior varsity and freshman-level athletic teams, which would result in fewer students getting to participate in sports, he said.
“The growth students can obtain in these athletic teams and clubs, whether it be drama or music, there’s lessons for a lifetime there,” Tripp said. “If you can be coachable, you can be employable – these skills definitely carry on.”
Connie Faria, a 20-year Ferndale resident who has seen two of her children graduate from Ferndale High School, said the levy funding makes a big impact on local schools.
“Now more than ever, kids need support in the classrooms as they’re trying to catch up from the impacts of COVID-19,” Faria said. “Without the levy, our kids are going to be negatively affected.