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Oak Harbor School Board chooses lesser levy option

The Oak Harbor School Board and community members selected a preferred levy option for the 2014 local levy at Monday night’s school board meeting.

Superintendent Rick Schulte said plans are for the school board to finalize a levy decision at the April 30 or May 14 board meeting, after further community discussion at levy meetings at 6 p.m. Mondays, April 16 and 23, held in the school district office.

While the lowest of three options, the preferred levy would charge property owners more than double what they’re paying now with a rate of $1.93 or $2.15 per thousand of assessed value, depending on the addition of all-day, everyday kindergarten, a hot topic at this meeting and past school board meetings after the district switched to all-day, every other day kindergarten.

The current levy rate is 92 cents, which cost homeowners with $200,000 valuation approximately $184 in 2011.

The board discussed three possible levy options. The selected option is the minimum amount needed to sustain the school district, Schulte said, emphasizing the need for flexibility to cope with upcoming state and federal changes to school funding.

This levy version would collect $8.1 million, including state levy match funding. That restores some of the cuts made over the past years but not all of them.

It protects and preserves what the district has cut without adding new programs, Schulte said.

“We’re responsible managers of our resources. We understand the times we’re living in,” Schulte said of the choice not to restore all the cuts already made.

 

This levy option would restore 20 teachers or other certified positions that were cut, the 30 minutes cut from middle school days, the seven half-days inserted to cope with teacher pay cuts, the activities and after-school tutoring bus, some tech, maintenance, grounds, custodial and clerical staff, as well as give additional funding for textbooks, technology, activities and asset preservation.

This would put students at approximately $100 above the current state average of funding per student but still $250 to $1,100 below the funding per student at nearby schools and other schools with large miliary populations, Schulte said.

“The fact of the matter is, I’m tired of being below average,” said Oak Harbor High School Principal Dwight Lundstrom. Currently, Oak Harbor students receive from $400 to $1,800 less funding per student than comparable districts, according to Schulte.

Teachers and community members who attended the meeting stressed the importance of everyday kindergarten as the foundation of education. At the next meetings, the board and community will address whether to include all-day, everyday kindergarten in the levy or if it should be added as a second proposal. This kindergarten proposal would cost an additional rate of 22 cents.

While school board member Christine Cribb said she is a supporter of all-day, everyday kindergarten, she said she wouldn’t support adding it to the levy, since the focus of the levy is on restoring cuts, not adding new programs. In the past, the district has had half-day, everyday kindergarten.

“It isn’t an extra,” kindergarten teacher Kathy Ridle said of kindergarten. She said today, kindergarten is like first grade because it teaches necessary math, reading and writing skills.

Schulte pointed out that the state has said it plans to fund kindergarten, “as soon as they have the money.” The state phased it in for 20 percent of schools but stopped just before reaching two Oak Harbor schools.

“I want to say, oh my gosh, let’s go for $4, but I can’t afford that,” said North Whidbey Middle School parent Janet Corbin, who said she’s spoken to other parents about the levy and they just can’t afford it. However, she supported the option that was chosen.

“We must pass a levy. I’m totally convinced failure to pass a levy would be devastating to the school and community,” Schulte stressed, adding that failure to pass the levy would result in loss of class time, cuts to athletics and activities, lack of maintenance and more that would resort in families moving out of the school district, which has happened in the past.

“We’ve got a really good school district and we need to maintain that,” Schulte said.

 

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