Lunch ‘madness’ part of levy experience

Oak Harbor school board member Corey Johnson eats lunch with Oak Harbor Middle School students Monday afternoon. Fellow board member Dave Sherman also took part in the hands-on levy experience. - Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times
Oak Harbor school board member Corey Johnson eats lunch with Oak Harbor Middle School students Monday afternoon. Fellow board member Dave Sherman also took part in the hands-on levy experience.
— image credit: Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times

Monday afternoon, Oak Harbor school board members arrived at schools for a hands-on look at the most challenging, fast-paced and competitive moment of the day: lunch hour.

“Lunch is madness here,” Oak Harbor Middle School student treasurer Sharmaine Miranda warned. “There are two lines and everyone hurries in.”

First in line, board members Corey Johnson and Dave Sherman filled their trays with sandwiches and sides before the student rush. Additional board members sampled the food at Hillcrest Elementary School and Oak Harbor High School.

Lunches are supported by the maintenance and operation levy, and board members say they are making it a mission to experience all the elements supported by the levy first-hand, before the March 10, 2009 renewal vote. Sherman said it will increase their awareness.

“I’ve never eaten at a school lunch before. I’ve written about it, spoken about it, but I haven’t had a chance to experience it,” Sherman said.

At last month’s board meeting, members had unanimously endorsed the two-part levy request for the vote next spring.

Levy one is a renewal of the current levy, with a rate of 74 cents per $1,000 of property valuation. Because of shrinking state match, inflation and increased staff costs, the amount was raised from 51 cents to 74 cents to maintain “original intent” of the levy.

The second half, 24 cents, will fund math and technology programs. Although levy one can pass on its own, levy two is contingent on passing levy one.

Before the levy was passed in 2001, lunch was not a program of Oak Harbor schools.

“Families enrolling in the district were in disbelief when they heard this,” North Whidbey Middle School Principal Laura Aesoph said. “They were also angry, especially if they depended on this program.”

Students were required to bring bagged lunches and eat in their classrooms. Those who qualified for free or reduced lunches were only given a carton of milk, Aesoph said.

Today, the levy pays for the custodial help and supervision of 3,600 students receiving meals each day.

Levy one will also continue staffing 20 teachers, 10 teacher assistants, computer technicians, custodians and fund school supplies.

The math and technology levy will allow for an estimated 10 new math specialists. The state now requires three math credits for graduation instead of two, so demand for these classes is higher. School officials plan to use part of levy two to replace aging computers, many of which no longer meet state standards.

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

Board members will continue their visits to schools to learn about each levy supported program and where there might be improvements.

At a board meeting, Superintendent Rick Schulte said the levy will keep Oak Harbor schools competitive in the future.

“The need for this is urgent,” Schulte said. “Anyone here before the levies knows we are a far better district than we were before.”

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