News

How will they vote?

Rick Almberg has put six children through Oak Harbor schools, and shows his support for the upcoming high school remodel bond by using his truck as a moving billboard. - Marcie Miller
Rick Almberg has put six children through Oak Harbor schools, and shows his support for the upcoming high school remodel bond by using his truck as a moving billboard.
— image credit: Marcie Miller

After months of planning and campaigning, and thousands of phone calls, the Oak Harbor School District bond election is down to crossed fingers and crystal balls.

Voters in the Oak Harbor School District will go to the polls Tuesday in a special election to vote yea or nay on the proposed $45 million high school remodeling bond.

Voting yes would add approximately 90 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation for property owners to the total taxes paid for local schools.

For that money the community would get a remodeled and updated high school, a performing arts center and new sports facilities.

Going into the home stretch, campaign organizers Citizens for Better Schools have a 50-50 record of seeing school funding special elections passed. In their first year, 1999, voters voted down a $2.6 million maintenance and operations levy.

Their second try in March 2001 resulted in the passage of a 70 cents per $1,000 maintenance and operations levy, and a seven cents per $1,000 hot lunch program levy.

A third proposal on that ballot, for a $7.9 million stadium construction bond, narrowly missed the super-majority needed to pass. It garnered 57 percent yes votes, three percentage points short of the required 60 percent.

Oak Harbor does not have a history of passing school levies. In the last 30-plus years more than a dozen levies have failed, or at least failed to get the super-majority needed to pass. Voters did approve the sale of bonds in 1996 to fund upgrading of all district schools except the high school.

Banking

on yes voters

Citizens for Better Schools member Lynn Goebel said their strategy going into this election hasn’t changed: “Find and bank the ‘yes’ votes,” she said.

“We are trying to strengthen the ‘yes’ voters, and encourage the undecided,” Citizens for Better Schools member Kathy Chalfant said. “The ‘no’ voters have already made up their minds.” Chalfant is also a school board member.

The goal of the campaign, which officially kicked off in January, has been to get 6,000 voters to pledge to vote yes.

Goebel said that number would give them a healthy safety net, and also represents every student in the district.

“Every child deserves a yes vote,” she said.

So far the group has banked more than 3,000 yes votes, and have identified 2,000 more as supporters, but their vote is not “in the bank” yet.

Will that be enough to pass?

“The unknown is the whole general population,” Chalfant said.

Election validated,

opposition vocal

Bond supporters are encouraged that enough absentee ballots have been returned to validate the election. Now they need the state-mandated super-majority of 60 percent yes votes to pass the bond.

Chalfant said traditionally absentee voters do not vote yes in as high a percentage as poll voters. In the last maintenance and operations levy absentee voters voted 58 percent yes, while poll voters supported the levy with a 73 percent yes vote.

The group is concerned that some people might vote no on the whole project because they disfavor one piece, such as the sports facility or the performing arts center.

Vocal opponent Scott Hornung has spoken at length about the need to preserve Memorial Stadium as the home of athletic events, even though it is across town from the present high school and not attached to any school.

“If citizens of this community are serious about preserving the historic nature of Oak Harbor and enhancing small business growth in the downtown area, they must be willing to allocate scarce resources in a manner that accommodates both school and community needs,” Hornung stated in a Jan. 18 Whidbey News-times Soundoff column.

Hornung, who is a former school board member and one of the architects of the “against” statement in the voters pamphlet, contends the proposed high school remodel is “not fiscally sound, too expensive, does not address all existing needs, is not in the best interest of the community as a whole and should be rejected.”

Endorsers see need

Joe Mosolino, Realtor and member of Citizens for Better Schools, said it is foolish to try to separate better schools from a better community.

“If people want to sell their homes for top dollar they need to realize quality schools are part of the package,” he said.

Quality of life is one of the main things people look for in deciding where to live, Mosolino said, and for families with children, quality of schools tops the list.

As a Realtor, Mosolino said he constantly fights the perception that Anacortes schools are better, because of Oak Harbor’s reputation for not passing levies in support of schools. For Navy families who do move here, it can mean the difference between renting for three years or buying, and staying longer.

“Oak Harbor offers a lot,” Mosolino said, “but we need better schools.”

The school bond has been endorsed by numerous elected officials and community groups, including Oak Harbor Mayor Patty Cohen, County Commissioner Mac McDowell, state representatives Barry Sehlin and Barbara Bailey, Senator Mary Margaret Haugen, Greater Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce, Oak Harbor City Council, Whidbey Arts Foundation, Oak Harbor High School PTA, North Puget Sound Association of Realtors, Oak Harbor Education Association and the Wildcat Booster Club.

Getting out every vote

The Citizens for Better Schools group is well aware that every vote counts. Just last week a $150 million bond measure in the Renton School District failed by seven votes. In a second and final recount, it received 59.96 percent approval.

School bond supporters used that information Thursday night as they phoned absentee voters who had pledged to vote yes but had not yet mailed in their ballots.

“Get out the vote,” has been Citizens for Better Schools’ main tool, and retired teacher John LaFond has been dialing tirelessly for months.

LaFond and his wife Carol are both retired educators, and LaFond said both are very concerned with providing good schools for students and the community.

“The expansion of the high school is a benefit to everyone in the community,” he said.

As a past director of the now defunct Community Concert series, Lafond said the performing arts center would be an asset to the community. As the parent of three children who have graduated from Oak Harbor High School, he has seen first hand the decline of the school.

“Then, (in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s) it was pretty good, now it’s overcrowded and outdated,” he said.

While opponents say the planned remodel is too extensive and expensive, Chalfant said it is the result of many public hearings.

“This is what the majority of the people have asked for,” she said.

The group is hoping it’s also what the majority of the people will vote for.

You can reach News-Times reporter Marcie Miller at mmiller@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611

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