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Oak Harbor school board stalls on setting levy figure
While the Oak Harbor School Board members choose a final levy amount to propose to voters in February 2013 as they had planned, they did hear requests to use levy funding to add back the 30 minutes that was cut from middle school days this school year, an issue previously left unvoiced among the many speakers asking for special education, nurse and library positions and other topics during the recent series of levy discussions.
The board had hoped to make a decision on the levy at the April 30 meeting but after a discussion that lasted until 9 p.m., when the board moved to lengthen the meeting further, board members decided they’d need more information before making a decision.
The board now plans to approve a levy proposal at its meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday, May 14.
The draft levy proposes a rate of $1.83, which would bring in $7.85 million including state levy match funding. Even with this levy that doubles the current local levy, Oak Harbor schools would still receive half of what nearby schools receive, said Rick Schulte, superintendent.
Board members discussed raising the amount, although a few of the members were hesitant to surpass asking voters for $2 per thousand of assessed value.
Board member Gary Wallin said he’d be happy to see the board ask for more than $1.83.
“Shoot for it. If we don’t make it, come back with a second, lower level,” Wallin said.
“Sending that message (of passing a $1.83 levy) to the community will take an army, an absolute army,” said Christine Cribb, board member. She added that she thinks the community will be supportive once they understand the school district’s needs, just as they support the Relay for Life fundraiser to fight cancer.
It was obvious that teachers supported the levy as a sizable crowd of educators wearing their red “I teach Washington” shirts lined the back of the room.
In order to balance needs and wants, the school board decided to remove all-day, everyday kindergarten from the levy proposal. It sends mixed messages to add a new program when the levy is meant to restore some of the programs and positions that were cut, said Peter Hunt, school board member.
The board decided to include nurse and librarian positions, special education funding and restore the 30 minutes back to the middle school day on the levy proposal.
Thirty minutes was cut from the middle school day this school year due to state funding cuts that eliminated 10 teaching positions. This eliminated a study period for student enrichment or extra help.
Removing those 30 minutes lessened the school year by 55 hours.
As school board members discussed adding the 30 minutes back to the middle school day --- which could cost up to $450,000 to bring back six to eight teaching positions --- they opened the discussion for public input, which came mostly from paid staff.
“We continue to be just that much below state average,” said Dwight Lundstrom, Oak Harbor High School principal. Lundstrom said he needs students to begin high school better prepared.
Ray Cone, assistant principal at North Whidbey Middle School, said that cutting the middle school day reduced teacher preparation time, meaning they no longer have time to meet with parents and have a difficult time meeting with other teachers. Alice Mikos, Oak Harbor Middle School librarian, attested that her diminished preparation time isn’t helpful and she has no time to meet with parents.
“It isn’t prep. That’s a joke. I can’t take more cuts. I need help,” Mikos said.
“All I can say is my heart would really sink if you didn’t add back that 30 minutes,” said Shanna Lundstrom, North Whidbey Middle School teacher.
Not only does she have less time to spend getting to know her students, but the lack of a break during the day makes her feel grouchy by the last period of the day and doesn’t allow her any time to communicate with parents, she explained.
The school board will continue the discussion at their regular board meeting set for 6:30 p.m. Monday, May 14 in the district office, located at 350 S. Oak Harbor St.
For more information, call 279-5000.