By MICHELLE KUSS-CYBULA
Do you believe in the story of David and Goliath?
Two years ago, the tiny school district of Wahkiakum went to battle with the state of Washington to hold the state accountable for sharing the burden of the cost for school construction. School districts across the state silently cheered them on and waited with bated breath.
Two weeks ago, the Washington Supreme Court ruled on the recent State Supreme Court decision affirming that school construction costs are a shared responsibility between local communities and the state. A big loss for Wahkiakum and even bigger loss to school districts across the state. For school districts like Wahkiakum, even if the local supporters approved a construction bond, their small rural community cannot generate enough bond capacity in taxes to afford to build a new school. This David and Goliath story did not have a fairytale ending.
Unlike Wahkiakum, our dream to build new schools in the face of two failed bonds did have a fairy tale ending, at least for Crescent Harbor Elementary and Hand in Hand/HomeConnection/OHVA. In fact, it is important for the Oak Harbor community to understand the unprecedented opportunity provided to us by the Department of Defense and Washington State Department of Commerce. With the approval of this grant funding, we will be able to rebuild two new schools because of their location on military installations without placing any financial burden on our local community.
This Spring, we informed our community that the School District applied for two grants through the Washington State Department of Defense Community Compatibility Grant to rebuild Crescent Harbor Elementary and HomeConnection/Hand-in-Hand Early Learning Center. There were two requirements to these grants; schools must be on federally owned property and each grant application required an 80% federal funding match. These two schools are the only two schools in the Oak Harbor School District that met the grant requirements that allowed us to apply.
Fortunately, with the strong support and advocacy of Senator Muzzall, Legislative representatives Davel Paul and Clyde Shavers, Lieutenant Governor Denny Heck, and our Oak Harbor Team, we were able to access both state and federal funds for a total of more than $130 million. This comes at zero cost to our local community tax payers. Yet, the long term investment of these two brand new, state of the art schools is priceless for our children today and for future generations.
As the work of these two construction projects will soon get underway, the condition of our other aging schools cannot be ignored. The recent Washington State court ruling of a local “shared responsibility” means we will need to continue to work as a community to listen, learn, and identify our collective priorities for future work around school construction.
While we wish that every school construction story had a fairy tale ending, the reality is that our district, like Wahkiakum, and many others across our state face an uphill battle when it comes to replacing aging buildings that have long outlived their shelf life.
We hope you will be able to join us in the exciting construction journey with Hand in Hand/Home Connection/OHVA and Crescent Harbor Elementary. I am hopeful that our community can share in the excitement and enthusiasm that these two brand new schools will bring our children. Stay tuned for our tentative Fall 2024 groundbreaking announcement. Together, we are #ONEOakHarbor.
Until then, please visit our website www.ohsd.net with upcoming information about these two projects.
Michelle Kuss-Cybula is superintendent of the Oak Harbor School District.