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Responsible school levy a necessity
I would like to address the article that was printed in the Whidbey News-Times Oct. 11 ("Wall Street causes levy jitters"), in which I was quoted. First and foremost this meeting was a very good presentation and discussion of the Oak Harbor School Board, school administration and community members present. The discussion was amicable, informative and very open to all. It was not a panic situation but one where all in attendance shared their ideas and concerns for doing what is right for the children of our community.
Our state and country's economy is a concern to all. Coming up with a fair, effective and efficient operations and maintenance levy for our school district is paramount since the state and federal governments only fund about 92 percent of the public education budget in Washington and the remainder has to be made up by a local levy and other funding that can be obtained locally.
I feel it behooves us all to take a hard look at our local economy and what we can afford in a school levy that is balanced across the board with the taxes and fees that we will be faced with in the coming months and years. Just one example of increased family cost outlays is the area of energy in today's market, the average American family (65 million working families) takes home less than $50,000 annually, which equates to an energy cost per year of about 22 percent of their after-tax income. This, coupled with all the other necessary items in the family budget, makes it very difficult for the average family to purchase necessities, i.e., food, clothing, housing, etc., especially those who live on a fixed income.
We know we need an operations and maintenance levy just to stay in step with where we are today in our school district. The school board and administration have made some very significant cuts in the past years to balance the school district's budget. With the ever changing economy, I don't thing it is prudent to ask for an operations and maintenance levy which will be harmful to the entire community as presently drafted.
Cuts to the budget in the past may never be restored because of the economic situation in our state and country. We need to move on with the most economical, effective and efficient way to educate our children. Doing nothing would also be wrong. Allowing the present levy to run out would be fiscally irresponsible, costing us further budget cuts in necessary programs and considerably more in election ballot fees in the future. This would not be economical or effective on the part of all of us in this community who own such a large stake in the education process of our children.
Perhaps, as I recommended, we should look at a four year levy that increases gradually from it present rate of .51 per thousand over the period of the levy's four years to $1 per thousand of assessed value. This could be done by graduated increases each year as the local and national economy recover, and at the same time keep from having to make large draconian cuts to the school budget over the next four years. Also, any levy we run should be prioritized with two or three projects that have to be funded, and not a laundry list of 20 or so "nice to have" projects.
Is it going to be a long, hard economic road over the next four years? Yes, but nothing that is as important as the education of our children should dissuade us from these tasks to make it an effective and efficient educational process. I think it is very important to remember that it doesn't matter how much money you have, the kind of car you drive or the size of the house you live in. If we can make a difference in the lives of our children, we can all make our community, state and country a much better place here and in the world. A successful public education for our children is a responsibility we all share.
Major Butch Laurion