News

School board squeezes budget

Students from Olympic View Elementary funnel out a gate on the playground after school and cross Regatta Drive to Fifth Ave. The city is requiring the school district to build sidewalks the length of the school grounds, but crossing guard Denise Martin says the most dangerous thing about students walking to and from school is that cars don’t want to stop, even at the crosswalks. - Marcie Miller
Students from Olympic View Elementary funnel out a gate on the playground after school and cross Regatta Drive to Fifth Ave. The city is requiring the school district to build sidewalks the length of the school grounds, but crossing guard Denise Martin says the most dangerous thing about students walking to and from school is that cars don’t want to stop, even at the crosswalks.
— image credit: Marcie Miller

Facing a possible $850,000 budget shortfall for the coming school year, belt-tightening was on the minds of the Oak Harbor School Board Monday night as members denied two requests for money and discussed the cost of the unexpected city-mandated sidewalk construction at two schools.

The city of Oak Harbor threw a wrench in the school district’s budgeting plans in April when it withdrew a deferral for construction of sidewalks at Broad View and Olympic View elementary schools, and instead ordered the district to get the sidewalks built within 45 days. City officials expressed concern for student safety in handing down their surprise decision.

District Construction Manager Gary Goltz told the board the cost for both projects is estimated at $213,000. He noted the cost of the project was more than it would be if they had more time to put it out for bid. Instead, they will go with the contractor working on projects at Broad View and Olympic View, ANDA Construction.

“Unfortunately, this forced schedule will result in significantly higher costs (as much as $50,00) than we would have faced had the city honored their original deferral agreement,” Goltz said in a memo to the board which he read at the meeting.

Goltz also said the cost could go up and the project would be delayed considerably if the district has to arrange moving the power poles in front of Olympic View. If all goes well, Goltz estimated the sidewalks would take 30 days to design and 60 days to build.

“We are working as fast as we can,” Goltz said. “Nobody could do it faster.”

No one from the school board has talked to the city directly, although Kathy Jones thought they should address the council and send a letter stating their concerns.

Rick Schulte, superintendent of schools, said the city’s decision has already had an impact on the schools.

Broad View had to cancel on-site school registration, kindergarten orientation and a grand opening scheduled for May 13. Summer school will not be held at Olympic View due to the sidewalk construction.

The impact on the budget has yet to be felt, but Schulte said they will begin to feel the loss next summer, when other projects may have to be delayed or cancelled.

The district may have other ways of coming up with the construction money, Schulte said, such as not paying off the loan for the administration building as early as they had planned.

“We have other options,” he said.

Goltz will present his request for an extension at the May 20 city council meeting. He also plans on meeting with the Board of Adjustment to appeal the requirement to extend the sidewalk north from Olympic View. The “sidewalk to nowhere,” as he calls it, does not meet up with any safe crossing area, and is beyond the school zone.

Sabbatical

too costly

The board turned down a request for a one-quarter sabbatical leave by North Whidbey Middle School history teacher Don Jenkins, citing in particular the estimated $7,000 it would cost to hire a substitute during his absence.

Jenkins had requested the paid leave for spring quarter of next year in order to travel back east to visit some of the historic sites he teaches about in his history classes.

He felt it would be better to visit these sites before tourist season, when he would have better access to the site staff. His suggested itinerary of almost 40 sites in eight states included Gettysburg National Military Park, the Statue of Liberty, the World Trade Center site and Washington, D.C.

Jenkins said although he has completed a master’s degree, he felt there were holes in his education.

“I hadn’t been a lot of the places I learned about,” he said. His goal in taking the quarter off was to be a better teacher, bringing his new-found knowledge back to the classroom.

A sabbatical review committee which met in April was evenly split on his proposal, with the Oak Harbor Education Association representatives approving it, and the administrative members denying it.

The administrative members said they would be more inclined to approve it for a full semester rather than a quarter, as they felt it would be easier to find a quality substitute for a longer period of time.

Schulte recommended denying the request, as he felt the quality of instruction would be adversely affected, the coming school year would be a time of limited resources, and the requested travel could be accomplished in the summer months.

Jenkins had met all the contractual requirements to qualify for a sabbatical, a paid block of time off from teaching, and is the only teacher requesting a leave for the 2003-2004 school year.

In advocating that the board approve the leave, OHEA co-president June Zacharias said, “Sabbaticals are a benefit for our members. They show the district cares.”

The board decided the cost to the district outweighed the benefits to Jenkins or his students.

Jenkins later had no comment on the board’s decision.

Communications

effort delayed

The board also decided to put off hiring a consulting firm to do a communications audit for the district. The audit, at an initial cost of $7,500, plus “other project related expenses,” would be the first step in the district’s effort to improve its ongoing communications with the public.

In presenting the proposal Schulte noted the district has received “strong criticism” for their proposal to consider hiring a public relations director at an annual salary of $80,000. They have also received several resumes from interested applicants.

Schulte said the audit would document what the district is doing now in the way of communications, and what the gaps in that effort are. The district has identified community relations as a high priority.

Board member Kathy Chalfant suggested they wait until after the May 20 special election for the high school remodel, when they could look at which methods to reach the public were effective and which were not.

“We’ll have more questions then,” she said.

Board President Vicki Harring noted they had just turned down the sabbatical request for a similar amount of money.

If and when the district does the communications audit, Schulte said it could show ways for the district to improve communications and community relations without hiring a full-time communications director.

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

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