Letters to the Editor

School district: A communicator is needed

In representing Oak Harbor’s 350 public school teachers, librarians, counselors and educational specialists, I fully support the Oak Harbor School District’s proposal to hire a communications director.

Oak Harbor continues to be misinformed about the needs and the successes of its school district. Many letter-writers to the Whidbey News-Times often criticize the OHSD for wasting money or over-taxing its citizens. Analyses of the school district budget by the Washington Education Association reveal a lean, fiscally-sound, conservative stewardship of the public’s money.

Tax rates on Whidbey Island are low, partly because too many citizens of Oak Harbor do not support their schools. Encouragingly, for the first time in 26 years, a maintenance and operations levy was passed in 2001, generating $267 per student. Yet, in Coupeville and South Whidbey, voters continue to pass levies supplementing the state’s inadequate funding with a more than $1,300 per student subsidy.

Since we cannot compete with better-paying districts along the I-5 corridor, we have difficulties attracting and retaining the most qualified employees, especially for highly sought after positions such as psychologists and speech therapists, for example. Maintenance is deferred as money is not available to fully protect the taxpayers’ investment. Oak Harbor has an unusually high autism population, necessitating expensive interventions. Proven and effective learning opportunities for students—after school and summer school programs, for example—remain unfunded and unavailable. Class sizes are too high in some classes because the state does not provide the district with money for transfer buses.

Other school districts surrounding Oak Harbor often seem to have better public relations. Ask yourself: Does the quality of the local schools and the level of community support for them influence whether or not the Navy will close the base?

If we are to meet the real needs and if we are to celebrate the real successes of our students, then I can support the position of communications director for the district. And, if we are to change the politics of our community for the better so that we focus on the value of a great school system that is fully funded, I can’t think of money that is better spent.

Peter Szalai,

President, Oak Harbor Education Association

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