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It’s levy time in Oak Harbor

Ballots for the school levy election are due in three days, assuming you live in the Oak Harbor School District.

At issue is a proposed two-part levy tax, that would fund existing school programs and boost math and technology district-wide.

A “yes” vote on both sections would result in a total levy of 98 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value for the next four years.

The Island County Auditor’s Office sent out 18,070 ballots in mid-February, and as of Wednesday, have received back only 6,957 ballots, or just over one-third.

This will be the first all mail-in election for the school levy.

“In other elections, about 70 percent of people voted by mail but 30 percent went to the polls. I don’t know what effect, if any, that will have,” Superintendent Rick Schulte said.

Along with a new system of voting, this levy campaign is the first to include multimedia and social networking Web sites. On Facebook.com, the group “Oak Harbor School Supporters” has over 200 backers, many of them parents. Volunteers have also uploaded campaign videos to YouTube.com.

“In the same token, in older campaigns, we’ve done more phone calling. But that’s partly a reflection of the fact that people don’t like getting mass phone calls at home,” Schulte said. “That’s an old technology now.”

According to the Public Disclosure Commission Web site, “Citizens for Better Schools,” led by Oak Harbor Police Lt. John Dyer, a former school board member, has collected $16,561 in campaign contributions.

Much of the money was spent on newspaper advertising and yard signs. Volunteers were sent to tables outside of grocery stores and to wave signs at intersections.

“I was at a levy campaign meeting last night and we can’t think of anything else we could’ve done,” Schulte said Wednesday. “But I think that there are so many things competing for people’s attention these days, that even when you use every media you can, you still miss some people.”

Overall, Schulte said the response has been positive and he hopes for similar results to past elections.

In 2005, the levy passed by a healthy 68 percent; and 64 percent in 2001.

Each passed for 75 cents, an amount that decreased to today’s 51 cent tax as property values rose.

This year, with Levy 1, school officials are asking for a 74 cent per thousand property tax to maintain existing programs. Included in the current levy are 20 teachers, 12 support staff, two computer technicians and several Advanced Placement courses.

The levy’s increase, officials say, is because of the deteriorating effects of the levy due to rising personnel costs and shrinking state match, and a desire to make up for recent cuts.

Levy 2, for 24 cents, can only take effect if Levy 1 passes. The levy would give additional support to the district’s math program by funding nine new math teachers, along with math coaches and assistants. It would also bring newer technology into the classroom.

The math-centric levy is a response to new state mandate for graduation, which requires three math credits instead of two. In Oak Harbor, and across the state, the math portion of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning generally produces the weakest scores.

If both section are approved for 98 cents, the district will qualify for the maximum state match for its first time. An extra $800,000 would be given each year, compared to the $400,000 received today.

The vote’s outcome is dependent on the simple majority, meaning the levy will pass only if 50 percent of voters say yes. In previous elections, the passage required a 60 percent supermajority but the law was changed by a vote of the people in 2007.

Schulte said that if the levy were to fail, layoffs for levy-funded staff would begin immediately.

Although the district could run another levy election, the earliest potential election date is in May. Schulte said layoffs must be approved before that time, according to state law.

Oak Harbor voters have until March 10 to postmark their ballots or they can drop them off at the elections office in Coupeville by 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.

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