Editorial: Still on the gravy train

Even when the Oak Harbor High School renovation bond passes May 16, the resulting tax increase won’t knock school district taxpayers off the gravy train they’ve been riding for years.

The fact is, we only pay for a small portion of what it costs to run our local schools. If North Whidbey residents had to pay for their schools themselves, property taxes would go up five times or more. Either that, or our kids would be using outdoor plumbing, heating the classrooms by burning their desks in 55 gallon drums and counting on their fingers for lack of computers.

So don’t believe it when critics complain that school taxes are too high. They don’t know how lucky they are to be living here.

According to figures from the Oak Harbor School District, the state provides about 73 percent of the local school budget. People complain of the hefty “state schools” item on their property tax bills, which collectively sends some $6 million from Oak Harbor to the state school coffers. But we get about five times that amount back, thanks to taxpayers in urban areas who are giving us rural folks one heck of a subsidy. And the federal government kicks in a lot, too, for special programs and our military connection.

Local school property taxes are also comparatively slight. In 2005 they stood at only $1.73 per thousand, far below any other school district of similar size in the area. In Anacortes it’s $2.72, Burlington $4.73, Mount Vernon $5.38, Marysville $4.22. Even the other school districts on Whidbey Island have a bigger tax bite although the districts are much smaller. In Coupeville it’s $3.03 and on South Whidbey it’s $2.25.

Oak Harbor High School is in dire need of renovation. If taxpayers do their civic duty and pass the May 16 bond proposal, it will bring the local school tax rate up to $2.58, still far below the state average of $3.85. Locally, only South Whidbey would have a lower tax rate, and that will only last until they decide to upgrade their aging facilities.

The Oak Harbor School District does amazingly well educating a fluid and diverse population of youngsters on one of the most limited budgets in the state.

In recent years, taxpayers have stepped up whenever a situation became critical. The elementary schools were upgraded, one middle school renovated and a new one built, and a new stadium and athletic fields were all given the go-ahead.

The high school is the last step in a years-long facilities upgrade plan. Voters have turned it down twice, but now the need is more apparent than ever. Vote yes, give our students a decent, modern learning environment, and still enjoy one of the lowest tax rates anywhere. The only way you can lose is by voting no.

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