In Our Opinion: Passage of school levy is imperative, even during a pandemic

Voters who live in North Whidbey will decide whether to return to the dark ages of the Oak Harbor school district.

There was a time, not that long ago, when the community wasn’t as supportive of the district as it is today, and the district’s reputation suffered. It was a time when levies didn’t always pass, when playing fields didn’t meet safety standards, when school buildings were aged and inadequate, when the idea of providing hot lunches to children was a big controversy.

Or voters could choose to support the upward trajectory of the district and pass the school levy in the Feb. 9 special election.

The levy would bring in $48.4 million over four years. It’s a replacement levy, which means it would replace a levy that already exists, plus an increase to account for inflation. If it passes, the rate is estimated to be $2.28 per $1,000 assessed property value, or $684 for a $300,000 house.

That’s not pocket change, especially during a worldwide pandemic. The district has the bad luck of having to ask voters to pass a levy during an unparalleled time of uncertainly.

But voters should consider long-term impacts and not succumb to the paralysis of fear and myopia. Superintendent Lance Gibbon wasn’t exaggerating when he said it would be catastrophic if the district was unable to pass a levy.

The state funds “basic education,” but lawmakers’ definition falls far short of community expectations.The failure of the levy would mean there’s no money for sports teams, after-school clubs, advanced placement classes, mental health counselors, arts programs, extended school days and much more.

Oak Harbor has been a model for other districts in safely continuing in-person education for younger grades, albeit at a “hybrid” level. It’s the largest district in the state to start in September with in-person learning.

Across the nation, many children — especially those in low-income families — are falling behind because of the limitations of distance learning. Oak Harbor kids, however, had the advantage of attending real classrooms, although it took a Herculean effort by school staff.

COVID-19 took a toll on everyone. School administrators acknowledge this and are preparing. Fittingly, the district’s motto for the levy is “Heal. Restore. Rebuild.”

A levy failure would do the opposite.