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Another bond goes to voters

First in series

This is the first in a series of stories looking at the Oak Harbor School District’s proposed renovation project of Oak Harbor High School. Wednesday, April 26 will examine classroom space; Saturday, April 29 will examine the condition of the career and technical facilities; and Wednesday, May 3 will examine the school’s infrastructure.

If history is any indicator, the Oak Harbor School District has almost a 50 percent chance of passing a bond next month.

Since 1960, the school district has presented voters 21 bond propositions. Nine of those propositions passed while 10 failed. Two others, which ran in early 1981, were approved but were ruled invalid because too few people voted in the election.

Rick Schulte, superintendent of the Oak Harbor School District, couldn’t comment on the fate of bond measures before he started working for the school district in the late-1980s, but he is encouraged by the school district’s recent bond history.

“That gives me encouragement in the support we’re getting from the community,” Schulte said.

He said recent measures have been well received by the community beginning in 1996 when voters approved a $21 million bond that paid for construction of North Whidbey Middle School and renovation of other schools except the high school.

Schulte also pointed out the successful stadium bond in November and the approval of a maintenance and operations levy in 2001 and re-approval in 2005 as encouraging signs of community willingness to approve measures.

The school district did suffer some setbacks in recent years. Voters rejected measures to build a new stadium and performing arts center in 1996 and a bond that would have paid for education and sports facility improvements in 2001.

In 2003, voters rejected a $45 million bond twice within a two-month period. That money would have funded renovation of the high school. The results dropped from 54.2 percent to 49.5 percent between the two elections.

Rick Almberg, chair of Citizens for Better Schools, a community group promoting the May 16 bond election, suggested the failure of the bond stemmed from a lack of awareness and participation in the community toward schools.

He added that the attitude of people in the community has shifted. Many voters have become more supportive of schools while the school district has become more transparent, he said.

The school district decided to take a break from voter initiatives after the 2003 measures. During that time officials examined why the bond proposals failed. They also wanted to wait and find out the results of the base closure process that finished in 2005 with NAS Whidbey’s future secure.

After the future of the air station was known, the school district moved forward with a bond proposal to fund construction of a new stadium and other athletic facilities at Oak Harbor High School. That $6.5 million bond was approved by voters last November. School officials decided to go with that bond first because the Rotary Club, which raised approximately $400,000 to help offset construction costs, requested that a stadium bond run as a separate, stand-alone issue.

With the approval of the stadium bond, voters will now consider a bond May 16 that would fund extensive renovation of Oak Harbor High School.

That $54 million bond would pay for new classrooms, enlarge existing classrooms, widen hallways, consolidate numerous entry points, replace the aging roof and upgrade aging infrastructure.

Should voters approve the bond, which needs a 60 percent supermajority to pass, then the school district would receive an estimated $19.33 million from the state. The 15-year bond will cost an estimate 85 cents per $1,000 assessed property value.

The renovation should be finished by the beginning of the 2010 school year.

Volunteers from Citizens for Better Schools are busy promoting the upcoming bond. They are going door-to-door today talking to residents about the specifics of the renovation.

Almberg said the group is looking for more volunteers to participate in Saturday’s “walk and talk.” To volunteer Saturday, April 22, meet at the high school gym at 10 a.m.

By visiting potential voters this weekend, Almberg said the bond will be fresh in people’s minds when absentee ballots are mailed out April 25.

Citizens for Better Schools will also have a float in the upcoming Holland Happening parade and the group is running ads in the Whidbey News-Times. Sign wavers will also be seen on major intersections on election day, May 16, to encourage people to vote.

Almberg said the volunteer group has received tremendous support from local businesses and volunteers from the Navy.

The group is also working to get information out to Navy families in hopes of encouraging more participation.

“We’re trying to get information out to the the Navy community to get them out to vote,” Almberg said. He added that, in the last election, only 75 of 650 registered voters living in Navy housing participated.

He said Citizens for Better Schools is always looking for more volunteers to participate in promotional efforts. To contact Citizens for Better Schools, email ohcbs@whidbey.net or attend weekly meetings that take place Wednesday at the Oak Harbor High School Library beginning at 5:30 p.m. For more information about the bond online go to www.cbsyesforkids.org.

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