By JOE GREENHERON
Late last school year, I met a South Whidbey student who broke a bone after falling in the courtyard at the middle/high school. Despite regular maintenance, pavers have come loose, creating an unsafe condition for the students who regularly race across it to get to their next class.
Mistakenly assuming that the school district’s April bond initiative passed, the student asked, “They’re gonna fix the courtyard now, right?” I had to look her in the eye and tell her that not enough adults in her community decided that it’s a priority to make sure she and her classmates have safe facilities, so students can focus on learning and having fun.
School districts receive most of their revenue from the state, which funds teachers, nurses and supplies. Conversely, significant infrastructure projects are typically financed through bonds or levies. The major projects our district needs to complete would require multiple levies, so the school district is issuing a bond, its first in a generation.
In April, a similar bond attempt fell just short of the required 60% supermajority. The upcoming bond is a slightly smaller amount, but remains focused on critical projects for building longevity and students’ health: urgent repairs; accessible bathrooms and playgrounds; and compliance with energy-efficiency standards.
An example project is replacing the middle/high school building’s roof, which has surpassed its 30-year lifespan, causing leaks and mold risks. The community must decide how to fund these repairs, and the bond presents the most cost-effective option in the long run compared to emergency debt or diverting funds from the district’s technology budget.
In addition to the roof, the bond covers mandatory energy-efficiency improvements. New state laws require energy retrofits, otherwise the district faces penalties. In other words, we have the choice between spending to make our buildings more efficient … or spending on penalties.
Even after the bond passes, South Whidbey’s property tax rates for education will remain among the lowest in the region, and as property values rise, the tax rate will decrease since the bond amount remains fixed.
I urge you to join me in voting yes on the school bond in November, for the student I mentioned at the top of this article, and because I know our community values schools that are safe, efficient and accessible.
Joe Greenheron is a Clinton resident and a member of the South Whidbey School Board.