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School levy boosts technology, maintenance

As Oak Harbor citizens weigh the value of renewing the Oak Harbor School District’s Maintenance and Operations Levy, many may wonder what their 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value is going toward.

In short, the M&O Levy, first agreed to by voters in 2001, pays for 20 additional teachers, 13,000 hours of teachers’ assistance, and 2,600 hours for office assistance. It also pays for extra maintenance staff, computer technicians, additional hours for custodian work, cafeteria staff, additional class time; and supplies, materials and development.

These staff hours and materials translate into hot lunch programs for all schools, classes for remedial and gifted students, integrated science for eighth graders, advanced placement classes for high schoolers, physical education, art and music classes for elementary students, and a greater availability of computers and technology for all students.

The levy money also pays for the starting costs of each of these programs, the staff fees to keep them running and the tools necessary to facilitate learning.

Joe Hunt, communications director for the Oak Harbor School District, said he looks at what the school district has attempted to accomplish over the past four years with the M&O levy and sees that the district is headed in the right direction.

“There is no real cause and effect that we can point to, because that would take a great study,” Hunt said. “But there are many factors that we can point to that just make good common sense.”

He believes, for example, that the addition of the hot lunch program to all the schools in Oak Harbor has added a definite boost in academic productivity.

“The common sense cause and effect is that hungry kids don’t study well; hungry kids don’t do well,” Hunt said.

He said when children have a chance to take a break in the day and get something to eat, especially kids who might otherwise not get a meal, it is a moral booster and mental enhancer.

Out of all the students eating with the hot lunch program, approximately 4,054 students per day come from families that qualify for federal reimbursement for the meals. Hunt said for some of these students, the hot lunch may be the only hot meal they get on an average day.

“The point I make, is that we’re making better learners,” he said.

In addition to the student aspect of the hot lunch program, the levy also funds the maintenance, operations and custodial costs the lunch program generates.

“The levy, in regard to the food service, funds three areas, three critical areas,” said David Connors, food service director for the Oak Harbor School District.

He said the levy money pays for office assistance for dealing with the lunch programs, as well as the custodial and instructional assistance necessary to run the lunch program.

Connors said the lunch program is self sustaining in the sense that if it were a business it would break even. The cost of student monitoring, cleanup and maintaining the program in working order for a school setting, however, is paid for with levy money and wouldn’t work in Oak Harbor schools without it.

“If the levy went away or was not renewed, these areas I mentioned ... nobody is going to be there, so how are we going to accommodate?” he said.

Craig Olsen, custodial supervisor for the Oak Harbor School District, said The jobs of some of his workers are dependent on what happens to the lunch program in connection to the M&O Levy. He said if the lunch program is curtailed, the districts custodial work load, which gained 3,400 hours with the implementation of the levy, would go down. And he might have to cut at least three positions.

Another aspect of Oak Harbor’s educational system funded by the M&O Levy is technology and tech support. The levy made it possible for the district to increase the number of computers each school uses, as well as the number of technicians that maintain these computers.

“The thing about computers is that they are not a luxury anymore,” Hunt said. “They are a necessity. They are essential for learning and for getting by in education.”

When advocating the renewal of the M&O Levy, school district administrators also point out student progress since 2001.

Hunt said since 2001, Oak Harbor students’ WASL scores have increased.

“We are moving in the right direction because the WASAL scores are going up,” Hunt said. “You know that we’re doing something right.”

Hunt said he views the M&O Levy as “absolutely essential.”

Stan Stanley, a volunteer for Citizens for Better Schools, said the levy would cost a property owners, with property assessed at $200,000, $150 per levy year. A four-year levy is being proposed.

“That is what it costs to get out kids a first class education,” he said.

Hunt said he feels the community is taking on the levy, school improvements and academic enhancement in good strides.

“I’m encouraged that it is going to continue that way. We’re not asking for more; we’re just trying to continue with what we already have,” he said.

Polls will open at 8 a.m. Tuesday, March 8, for the levy vote. However, the majority of of citizens in the Oak Harbor School District vote by mail, and they have already received their ballots.

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