Oak Harbor School District levy request on Valentine’s Day ballot

Just as student enrollment is rising in Oak Harbor, so is the need for additional funding for school programs, district officials say.

On Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, residents in the Oak Harbor School District will be voting on a proposed replacement levy.

If approved, homeowners in the district can expect to pay an estimated additional 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. The current levy rate would increase from $2.30 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to $2.55 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

The owner of a home with an assessed value of $300,000, for example, would pay an additional $6.25 per month.

The levy would replace the existing levy that expires at the end of 2017. If approved by voters, the replacement will be implemented at the start of the 2018 calendar year and continue through 2021.

Schools Superintendent Lance Gibbon said the levy would not be used for additional programs but to maintain those already in place.

“We want to be good stewards of community resources and give a return on investment,” said Gibbon.

“Past levy dollars have produced measurable results.”

Oak Harbor High School’s graduation rate is at an all-time high of 91.4 percent, well above the state average of 78.1 percent, according to school officials.

In addition, the school has the third-highest graduation rate in the state for homeless students.

“The results speak for themselves,” said Gibbon. “Levy dollars are changing student lives in profound ways.”

The levy pays far a wide variety of programs, from after-school tutoring to transportation. Levy funds directly support nearly 125 staff positions and special programs that would otherwise not be possible, according to Gibbon.

During the time since existing levy election was approved in 2013, student enrollment in Oak Harbor increased by nearly 600 full-time equivalent students and growth is expected to continue, school officials said. Officials at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island say that significant growth in the number of military families is expected over the next few years.

The replacement levy increase over the current one includes adjustments for inflation and increasing student enrollment.

Currently, state dollars cover about 60 percent of Oak Harbor’s budgeted revenue.

Local levy dollars with state levy match is about one-sixth of the budget.

”We’re requesting a replacement levy to make sure students can continue to enjoy the programs they have today,” said Conor Laffey, the school district’s communication officer.

William Thiel, a naval science instructor for the district’s NJROTC program, said it’s important that the replacement levy be approved.

“It will have a major impact on the kids if the levy does not pass because it would affect programs such as school lunches,” he said.

While levy dollars do not support the NJROTC program directly, Thiel said, it would have an effect on funding for participation in national competitions such as travel and registration fees.

School District Transportation Director Francis Bagarella said the state only funds transportation to and from school, but does not cover transportation for extracurricular or after-school activities.

Bagarella said the transportation department would be forced to reduce the number of drivers and bus routes if the levy fails.

“We still would have to do the same amount of work with less people and resources,” said Bagarella. “It’s hard to lose good people especially when good drivers are so hard to find.”

“The biggest impact is on the kids,” he added.

Oak Harbor schools has been the recipient of several awards, including the 2016 Bronze Award from U.S. News and World Report list for Best High School and National Green Ribbon School, of which there are only 58 in the nation.

“A rich and well-balanced education program enriches students and opens doors for a future beyond high school,” Gibbon said.

Ballots will go out Jan. 27.


Photo by Michael Watkins/Whidbey News-Times Luke Turner, left, and Mark Manuel, 9th graders at Oak Harbor High School test voltage on a battery in Auto Shop class Wednesday in Oak Harbor. These types of classes are directly supported with levy dollars.