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Future school levy in two parts probable

School board members said they are a little “gun shy” about their levy figures Monday, after all four financial items on November’s ballot were shot down.

“If the economy is bad, we need to be sensitive to the needs of the community,” school board member Dave McCool said at Monday’s meeting.

The initial tax proposal of $1 per $1,000 home valuation may be split into two parts for the March ballot: 75 cents and 25 cents. Another resolution was suggested for 70 cents or 30 cents, and each will be drafted by attorneys for the board’s consideration.

Superintendent Rick Schulte said the 75 cents would allow the district to keep the same staff and services they have in 2008 for 2010. The second part would fund math and technology.

“We would be able to hire 10 new math teachers,” Schulte said.

Today’s levy rate of 51 cents per thousand staffs about 20 teachers, 10 teacher assistants, computer technicians, custodians and funds school supplies.

However, this rate isn’t pragmatic for the future, Schulte said, partly because the state doesn’t pay for levy supported teachers.

“The average cost of a teacher in 2008 is about $75,000. In 2010, it will be $85,000 because of a higher cost of living adjustment and rising pension. These costs are mandated by the state.”

Staff costs, along with lower state matching, have forced about $4 million in district-wide budget cuts and eliminated 76 jobs over the last two years. Many students and parents were unaware of cuts made because they weren’t directly affected, Schulte said. Exceptions included the removal of middle school junior varsity sports and seven bus routes, which increased ride-times by about one hour.

“We’ve cut all the little stuff we can, but we’ve come to the end of that,” Schulte said.

One district problem is the age of the school computers. They have a life expectancy of five years, but staff need to make them last for seven. Out of a lab of 30 computers, only 16 will meet state standards next year.

At Monday’s school board meeting, teachers and administrators expressed support for the levy, specifically at the $1 rate.

“The levy is important to me and the community. Students deserve the best education, not a good enough education,” Oak Harbor High School Assistant Principal Bill Weinsheimer said.

The school levy is funded by property taxes. But increased property valuation does not increase the amount collected by schools. As valuation goes up, the levy comes down as it did in 2005; from 75 cents to 50 cents.

If both sections of the March levy pass, total levy funds would double from about $2 million to $4 million a year. The first tax collection would occur in May of 2010, eighteen months after the vote.

School levy taxes for property owners would almost double as well. Today, the owner of a $300,000 home pays $153 annually at the present rate. He will pay $300 if both parts of the levy pass next March.

Schulte said that if the levy is not passed, 20 teachers, 20 classified staff, six computer labs would be cut. School days would be shortened by 30 minutes at the elementary school, and one period would be cut at the middle school.

“If the levy doesn’t pass, we would need to send out pink slips in April,” Schulte said.

He added that by any comparison, Oak Harbor has one of the lowest local levy rates in the state, ranking number 29 out of 30 districts of similar size.

“Even with the levy passing, we’ll still be at 29th,” he said.

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