Voter education key to next levy | Editorial
February 18, 2012 · Updated 5:53 AM
The Oak Harbor School Board is doing a good job demonstrating the school district’s needs before deciding on a levy dollar amount to present to voters in 2013.
The board has led a series of monthly workshops dealing with specific needs. The most recent was Monday, when special education teachers and parents described the difficulties caused by recent cutbacks and how additional local levy dollars would help.
Similar pleas had earlier been made to increase local funding for athletics and other student activities, transportation, food services, facilities and textbooks. After suffering through several years of declining state and federal support, the school board will no doubt ask local property owners to increase their share of the education burden.
Even though the Legislature is now in session, and working under a state Supreme Court mandate to boost its funding of basic education, don’t expect financial miracles. Any tax increase faces formidable opposition in the Legislature, and any general tax increase approved will have to survive a vote of the people. Nine jurists in black robes may be watching, but they probably can’t force the Legislature to raise taxes or even require a reordering of priorities. Trying to do so would do little more than create a constitutional crisis.
Unless the state economy improves significantly in the next year, school boards throughout the state will be asking for more local levy dollars. Oak Harbor has a good argument that we could do more to help our schools. Local school property taxes here are lower than 90 percent of the other school districts in the state. In 2009-2010, according to the Office of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Oak Harbor School District property owners were paying 79 cents per thousand of assessed value, compared to the statewide average of $2.03.
It also help that in recent years the Legislature has allowed school districts to raise more money locally, and that the 60 percent super majority rule for levy approval was removed, meaning levies can now pass with just 50 percent plus one vote.
Nevertheless, Oak Harbor’s last levy in 2009 squeaked by with just 51.39 percent voter support. There’s no guarantee that voters next year will agree to pay more, but the best approach is to educate them thoroughly well before the vote. To its credit, the Oak Harbor school board is trying hard to do just that. On Tuesday, Feb. 21, there will be another forum on the 2012-2013 budget and levy, starting at 6:30 p.m. in the board room, 350 S. Oak Harbor St. Interested parents and taxpayers should attend.