School levy backers launch campaign

 The crowd at Thursday’s school kick-off rally included parents, students and political leaders.   - Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times
The crowd at Thursday’s school kick-off rally included parents, students and political leaders.
— image credit: Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times

“Let’s keep a good thing going” was the mantra for Thursday’s school levy kick-off rally in the Oak Harbor Elementary School gymnasium.

Volunteer efforts were pooled by political leaders, community members and students to mount public awareness for the levy renewal vote this spring.

The levy request comes in two parts: Levy one would continue funding programs supported under the current levy for a 74 cent rate, and levy two would focus on math and technology for 24 cents. Levy two will be contingent on the passage of levy one.

Bob Severns, an Oak Harbor city councilman and local business leader, opened with a speech about the changes he’s seen in schools during his 39 years in Oak Harbor. He worked on the Oak Harbor High School stadium levy in 2007 and the district-wide levy in 2001.

“Tonight I think we want to create momentum, and get this darned thing passed,” Severns said.

Organizers played an educational DVD displaying levy supported programs and the consequences of a failed vote this March, such as a $2.4 million cut in teaching staff and supplies.

The video explained that the bump from today’s 51 cent levy rate to 74 cents is due to inflation, personnel costs and a shrinking state match. It seeks to renew the “intent” of the original levy. The current levy funds a mostly self-sustaining lunch program, 20 teachers, 12 support staff, two computer technicians and a number of Advanced Placement courses.

“Before the levy, Oak Harbor High School had one AP course serving 15 students a year. Today, there are 17 AP courses serving 370 students,” Severns said.

Rick Baleros, an Oak Harbor High School senior, said AP courses helped him gain a $24,000 academic-based scholarship to the University of Oregon this fall.

“The courses had me feeling so much more prepared. They set me ahead,” Baleros said.

The site of the event, Oak Harbor Elementary, held special significance for committee organizers because it was remodeled using levy dollars. The 70-year-old building was a former high school and community hub for weddings and events, but it was closed in the 1990s. Mayor Jim Slowik was on the school board the year the building was reopened.

“One of my proudest moments was walking in and seeing the stands and old students who came back to celebrate,” Slowik said.

Much of the volunteer rallying will be done online, from The Web site has a section for information, donations and sign up forms for volunteers. Attendees also picked up yard signs, buttons and T-shirts.

John Dyer, co-chair of the campaign, said that although economic times are difficult, the levy rate is low compared to the statewide average of $1.80. Over the years, the levy rate has gone down from 78 cents in 2002, 70 cents in 2005 and today is 51 cents. Levy rates are based on property valuation and as property values go up, the levy rate comes down. If both sections of the levy proposal pass, the new rate would be 98 cents per $1,000 property valuation.

Dyer added that as a community, citizens have a direct say in adding to a student’s potential, by helping to tailor their education.

“Education is the greatest strength this country has. Students entering kindergarten can do anything they want, because our education is universal,” Dyer said. “It is our responsibility to make sure they continue to have the resources to be successful.”

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