School bonds and levies on the February ballot will fund nurses, sports and capital projects with minimal, if any, additional cost to taxpayers, Whidbey superintendents said last week.
At a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Whidbey Island, Oak Harbor Superintendent Karst Brandsma, Oak Harbor school board member Erik Mann, Coupeville Superintendent Steve King and South Whidbey Superintendent Jo Moccia discussed the upcoming levies and bonds their respective districts are hoping to implement.
The school representatives attempted to clear up misconceptions around the taxes and encouraged the public to vote in their favor next month. The special election will be Feb. 8.
Oak Harbor schools
The Oak Harbor school district is asking voters for a $184 million bond to rebuild four elementary schools and a school transportation center that serves Oak Harbor and Coupeville. The project is meant to update aging facilities and bring school buildings closer to the communities they serve.
Mann said studies conducted by the district in recent years “have all shown that it is actually going to be cheaper in the long run to replace the building and operate new, efficient, modern buildings rather than bring everything up to current codes.”
The project is eligible for around $140 million of outside matching funds.
The bond is a replacement measure for two previous bonds, issued in 2005 and 2006, to redesign Oak Harbor High School and construct a new stadium. Brandsma said the district is “conservatively estimating” the tax rate for the bond to come in at $1.89 per $1,000 assessed value, slightly under the $1.92 and $1.91 rates seen in 2005 and 2006, respectively.
The superintendent also aimed to correct misunderstandings surrounding the bond.
“There is a common misconception among voters that if they approve a bond, that money will be used to fund salaries or increase the number of teachers or administrators and that’s legally just not the case,” Brandsma said. “It can only be used for what the voters intend it for. In the case of a bond, it can only be used for capital construction.”
He also assured listeners that because the levy would be approved at a fixed amount, taxpayers will not end up paying more as their property value increases. Rather, as the assessed value goes up, the tax rate will decrease.
The Coupeville school district will have three levies on the ballot: a $10.6 million educational programs and operations levy, a $1.95 million technology levy and a $6 million capital projects levy.
The first is a four-year replacement levy meant to “pick up where it left off,” King said. For a Coupeville taxpayer whose home is valued at $500,000, this levy would cost around $5.75 more than the current levy per year. This levy funds school nurses and counselors, certain electives and extracurricular activities in the district.
The technology levy is also a four-year replacement levy and would cost the owner of a $500,000 home around $18.88 more per year than the current levy. This levy would fund Chromebooks for students, updated technology in classrooms and increased school surveillance.
The capital projects levy, King said, is meant to act as a bridge between the district’s bonds which end this year and the new bond measure district officials plan to implement in two years, during which time the levy would fund maintenance and upgrades. The owner of a $500,000 home would pay around $169.50 more per year than what the expiring bond currently costs.
Though the rate collected in 2023 would increase from the previous year if all three levies pass, the average tax rates over the life of the levies will still decrease in Coupeville, the superintendent said. The average rate over the past four years was $2.43 per $1,000 assessed value. Under the new levies, that average rate would decrease to $2.11.
King encouraged voters in all districts to support the levies, which fund activities that kids have been missing during the past two years because of the pandemic.
“Kids need this now more than ever,” he said. “Our kids have given up so much over the last couple years and lost so much, and we really found out how important schools are to our children and to our communities.”
South Whidbey schools
The South Whidbey school district has a single levy on the ballot. This replacement levy would bring in approximately $3.5 million per year over three years at a rate of around 50 cents per $1,000 assessed value, a significant decrease from the current levy of 95 cents per $1,000. The levy would fund extracurricular activities not funded by the state, including field trips, athletics and arts programs, as well as staff benefits such as sick leave.
Moccia said the district was able to decrease its levy so significantly because of how much property values on the South End have risen recently, though the new levy would still bring in $400,000 to $600,000 less in total per year to the district.
Ballots for the February election are slated to begin arriving in the mail Jan. 20.
This story has been corrected.