Editorial: Voters can be confident district will be fiscally responsible with levy dollars

Oak Harbor schools Superintendent Lance Gibbon has spent the last several months educating the community and trying to dispel misconceptions about the proposed levy on the ballot Feb. 14.

The message that he has repeated time and again is that the school district has been a good steward of the citizens’ money and that the levy, with a modest increase, is a great investment.

He’s exactly right. The amount of money spent per student in Oak Harbor is less than surrounding districts and the state average. Oak Harbor is in the bottom 25 percent of school levy rates in the state. But at the same time, the successes and opportunities at Oak Harbor schools are impressive.

Oak Harbor schools have been recognized as National and Washington Green Ribbon Schools and as schools of distinction, among other honors. It also has award-winning culinary arts, robotics, video production, DECA and NJROTC programs.

The following are some of the misconceptions Gibbon has worked to dispel:

n The current levy won’t continue if the proposed levy on the ballot doesn’t pass. The school district will lose one-sixth of its budget. With it goes 125 jobs, classes like art and physical education, after-school activities, computers and technology funding, and many other professional and support services.

n The Oak Harbor School District is not flush with cash. Oak Harbor schools do receive federal impact aid and state funds to make up for the fact that so much property in the area is federally owned and immune from property taxes. But Oak Harbor is behind the majority of districts even with that money, which has declined over the years.

n Implementation of the McCleary decision at the state level won’t make levies obsolete. The state is only obligated to fund basic education, which by definition doesn’t include all the things the levy pays for — even though some of them seem pretty basic to education.

Money from the state comes with strings attached, Gibbon points out. For example, the state mandated the district provide full-day kindergarten, but didn’t provide enough funding to implement it. Levy dollars helped fund the additional six classrooms and other costs.

The proposed replacement levy does mean taxpayers in the district will be paying more. There’s no getting around that. It includes an estimated 25 cent increase per $1,000 on assessed property value to adjust for inflation and increased enrollment. On a $300,000 home that equates to an increase on $75 per year or $6.25 a month.

He said the district tried to bring a proposal to voters that was tax sensitive, knowing Oak Harbor residents have other expenses coming down the pike, such as increased sewage fees because of the new sewage treatment plant.

Voters can be confident that the replacement levy is a sound and fiscally responsible investment.