Letter to the Editor: Ridgefield district may be asking for too much



Warning signs come in a variety of places, and there’s one at the state level that is flashing right now. Why are state matching funds so low compared with the size of the facilities being built at Ridgefield School District in the 2024 proposed bond?

The 2017 bond anticipated $15.5 million in state-matching funds against $98.5 million in anticipated cost. Ultimately, $28.5 million was received: $18.8 million for the 5-8 school and $6.7 million for the high school. Those extra funds were spent in a variety of ways that brought the total spending to about $107.5 million, after reimbursement from the City for portions of the RACC and RORC.

The 2024 bond anticipates receiving $11.7 million in state-matching funds against the $212.2 million total anticipated. Some of the projects in the proposed bond go toward roofs, resurfacing the track, band room acoustics, etc. Even when backing those out, there’s still a big discrepancy in the level of state-matching funds anticipated vs. the last bond.

This proposal to build significantly more capacity is only eligible for $11.7 million vs. the $28.5 million received in the last bond. Why? This bond exhausts the available funds for unhoused students.

It makes sense that the state would want to make sure that capacity isn’t built out too far in advance of when it is needed, given that statewide enrollment in K-12 schools has declined nearly 48,000 students since the 2019-20 school year.

You might have seen the news over the last few weeks. Vancouver and Portland school districts are attempting to reduce cost by a collective $85 million. Vancouver, Evergreen, Battle Ground and Portland school districts have lost over 11,400 students since the 2016-17 school year. Growth rates in Clark County are not being accompanied by increased enrollment in schools.

Numbers tell a story. When we see the state-matching funds declining but more capacity is being added, it is telling us something. It is a warning that enrollment trends may be changing, and they appear to be. The rate of growth is slowing in the K-8 schools, and it is increasing in the high school. That makes sense because as home prices go up, fewer families with young children can afford to buy homes.

The district has shared that state-matching funds are available for the K-4 school but not the 5-8 school or the high school. That’s a message that we may be building too much capacity. After all, the proposed K-4 and 5-8 schools would add a capacity of 1,600 vs. a need of 361.

Across the entire K-8, enrollment is growing at 52 per year over the last three years. I use that range because the trend is changing. At that rate, it will take nearly 24 years to reach capacity.

We’re getting signals from all around us to pay attention to where the needs for capacity are and not to overbuild. If we get it wrong, we’ll have spent precious tax payer dollars in the wrong place and won’t have funds for where emerging needs exist. Will we listen to the message being sent and take a look at what the warning signs are telling us?

Heidi Pozzo