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Seniors chime in on school bond

Absentee ballots are already coming in, and Tuesday Oak Harbor School District voters will go to the polls for a second time to vote on a $57 million remodel for the high school. The $45 million bond issue failed in March, with just under 54 percent of voters approving the measure, 6 percent short of the supermajority needed for passage.

At several public forums hosted by the school district last month, members of the public speculated the bond would not pass because seniors didn’t want their property taxed raised. Based on that assumption, a straw poll of seniors in Oak Harbor this week yielded some surprising results.

Of 16 seniors surveyed randomly, the vote was split nine for, seven against. Statistically this was fairly representative of how voters in general voted in the March election. Property tax increases were just one part of the seniors’ reasoning. At Oak Harbor Senior Center, the count among cribbage-playing seniors was six for, two against.

Edwina Baker, who moved to Oak Harbor recently, said she was all for the remodel.

“Our kids are our future,” she said. “Some people complain about taxes, but we have to invest in our kids.”

Dorothy Rosenberger, a retired college instructor from Colorado, said she is all for education, and from what she has read the district “could stand to have the thing pass.” Her husband Glenn Rosenberger said he was voting for the bond, even though he has no grandchildren in the area.

Don Brouillard was opposed to the plan for several reasons. He felt the planned athletic facility was too much, and he didn’t trust the school board, based on previous experience. He declined to comment on what that experience was.

“I’m not satisfied with the way it is presented or funded,” he said, but he added he would still vote for the bond.

“It’s the lesser of two evils,” he said.

He said he didn’t like paying higher property taxes to fund the bond, but he felt it was another necessary evil.

“Nobody wants to pay more property taxes,” Wayne McFarland said, “but it’s the only way to get things done.”

He said he would be voting yes, but was not confident of the bond’s chances of passing.

Harold Johnson said he would vote for the bond because he realizes kids have more to learn these days, such as technology. Still, he thought the school board should fix, rather than replace, Memorial Stadium.

“I think we should have a main stadium for the city,” he said.

Carolyn Armstrong was concerned about her property taxes, and said she would vote no even though she has six grandchildren in the Oak Harbor school system.

“I’m on a set income, so it’s hard to think of paying more,” she said. “I vote my conscience, what I feel I can pay for.”

Some seniors still skeptical

At another card game across town, in the Daily Grind coffeeshop, seniors showed more of a trend to vote against the bond.

They cited concerns about the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station base possibly closing, a decline in school population, the scope of the project, and what they perceived as arrogance on the part of the school board.

Curt Bland said he voted against it in the first round, and he would vote against it again. He felt the school board was arrogant for turning around and putting the same proposal to the voters. He also thought kids could get a “decent” education without spending $57 million.

If property taxes were not a main concern of the seniors, the attitude of the school board was. Several pointed out the purchase of the former Alaska Federal Credit Union for a new school administration building as evidence of the district’s misuse of tax dollars.

“If the schools need so much help, why is the office getting so much money,” Lynda Gettig asked. She proposed housing the administration in “portables” now used as classrooms at several schools.

For the record, the district paid the appraised price of $1.8 million for the larger space, then put approximately another $1.8 million into remodeling, according to Schools Superintendent Rick Schulte.

Ginny Jones agreed the school district may have hurt itself in the court of public opinion by purchasing the building, but she said she would vote for the bond, for the kids’ sake.

Others who planned on voting against the bond said they didn’t like what they saw as an emphasis on sports.

“Sports and education should be separate,” Jane Hoffman, retired teacher, said. “I would be willing to over-support education.”

George Reed also was not crazy about the stadium plans, but would vote yes.

“It’s time local people got used to supporting their schools,” he said, rather than relying on more government funding.

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

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