Without levy, students will pay
October 3, 2008 · 3:12 PM
By Dave McCool
President, Oak Harbor School Board
The loss of junior varsity sports at the seventh and eighth grade levels should be a concern to all of us, not just the parents of middle schoolers.
It’s a small first step – but clearly a first step – into an area of budget-cutting that will leave Oak Harbor schools less than they should be. The district has cut about 10 percent from its budget during the last two years, eliminating 76 full-time-equivalent jobs, yet very little of those cuts directly impact students. It means not being able keep the hallways and classrooms as clean or the playgrounds mowed. It means fewer new computers and delaying some maintenance. It means less clerical support to keep the schools running efficiently.
Yet, the number of teachers per student remains the same. Basic programs, such as art and music and tutoring and AP courses remain the same. And athletics has remained the same – until now.
This year, students will feel the pinch at the JV level of middle school sports. Parents will feel the pinch with higher athletic fees. And bus riders have longer daily rides to look forward to. (Filling buses to state-standard capacity means fewer buses burning less diesel, but longer rides for those students at the far end of the bus routes.)
The struggle to deal with less has been difficult and painful for those working within the school district for the last two years. We’re now at the point where the budget is stretched so thin it will be felt by students and the community as well.
No one wants that. It is, however, the economic realities of today’s school funding picture. Oak Harbor is just one of many dozens of communities making difficult decisions about what stays and what goes in their school districts. The funding crisis in schools is statewide, spurred by diesel and utility costs, rapidly increasing pension contributions mandated by the state, rising health insurance premiums, high cost-of-living allowances and decreasing financial support in key federal and state programs. These increased costs are impacting all 297 school districts in the state. And with the state now facing a projected deficit, it’s not likely things will get better soon.
If you’d like to see exactly how they affect Oak Harbor, go to www.ohsd.net and click on the “Funding Schools” button. You’ll find a link to a thorough explanation on how statewide changes in expenses and revenues has created the “perfect storm” pummeling schools.
If this budgeting storm continues, there will be more student programs affected in the near future. There is very little choice left.
As a community committed to the health of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station and determined to do our part to help the active duty military families living here, we have to find a better answer. Together, we have worked mighty hard the last 12 years to completely remake our schools and to offer the most compelling student opportunities of any district in the region. We want to be the community of choice for transferees coming to work on the island and we want to be proud about the schools we offer them.
Oak Harbor School District is sponsoring a public meeting Wednesday, Oct. 8, to talk about where we go from here. A big part of this meeting will be a discussion about the upcoming renewal of the local school levy. A committee last spring recommended that the levy be increased from the current level of 51 cents to somewhere around $1 dollar. The committee recommended the levy be used to a) retain the programs funded under the current levy; b) focus more resources on math and science instruction at all grade levels, and c) reinstate some of the cuts of the last two years.
At $1, Oak Harbor will continue to have one of the lowest levies in the state. And, at the same time, we would qualify for the maximum amount of state match due to Oak Harbor, bringing in an additional $400,000 annually.
Yet, this is only a solution if residents of Oak Harbor are willing to support it. The meeting is to find out what you think. Is the recommended levy amount appropriate for Oak Harbor? If so, should it be used for the items listed above? Are there other needs not addressed? A short presentation will explain how the levy is used today, what benefits the district gains by a levy, how it compares to other districts in the region and statewide, and how the state matching dollars are allocated.
Join us Wednesday, Oct. 8, at 6:30 p.m. at the school district office, 350 S Oak Harbor St. You can also send your comments to email@example.com.