Sound Off: We cannot afford South Whidbey school bond


The South Whidbey School district is proposing a 20-year, $79.8 million bond measure to be paid back within 22 years. This represents only a $200,000 reduction since the $80 million dollar bond measure vote that failed in April 2023, with few changes.

Having served on the South Whidbey School Board from 1997 to 2007, I have supported many school district levy requests, however for several reasons not this one.

The actual cost of the bond to taxpayers has not been explained with any transparency. That cost is about $139 million when interest is paid. Using an assessed home value of $800,000 in 2023, the total cost at today’s interest rates, over 20 years, would be approximately $15,500 on that home and includes $6,600 in interest. This is just for the new bond issue in addition to existing local levies. The first decade of payments is largely interest on the debt.

In 2012, the McCleary court decision led to a new state tax intended to equalize funding across districts statewide and replace local enhancement levies. The next year, however, extra local levies were again approved by the Legislature. In the 2012/2013 school year, districts statewide received an average of $8,742 funding per student.

In the 2022/2023 school year, the statewide average was $15,462 per student (a 76% increase). According to Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, or OSPI, records the South Whidbey district had an expenditure of $18,185 per student in 22/23. In addition, $5 billion was sent to Washington State in COVID-19 relief that was earmarked for schools in 2021. Where did the money go?

The OSPI Report Card for South Whidbey School District for school year 2022/23 is as follows:

* 1,227 students

* 53% met English Language Arts standards.

* 39.7% met math standards (spring of 2022)

* 56.3 % met science standards

* 72.7% regularly attended classes

Compared to the student performance I recall from 2007, this is alarming. The district has not explained how this bond proposal will improve student performance and stop the decline of our children’s education. Student knowledge should be the most important part of the public mission.

The South Whidbey School District student enrollment has been steadily declining for several years. It peaked during my tenure on the board at about 2,500 and is now projected to be slightly under 1,200 for this next school year.

This bond includes an expensive turf field. These synthetic fields last 10 or 12 years (about half the life of the bond). The NFL players association is now asking owners to switch back to grass due to injuries.

In 2010, the school district was proposing a $13 million dollar bond for similar needs. How did this expand to nearly $80 million? Why have priority needs not been fixed?

When people are forced to create credit card debt (up 38%) to pay for essentials like food and energy, is it really wise to throw everything at the wall to see what sticks creating huge bond debt? I can pay for yet another tax, but what about the growing number among us who cannot? Vote no on this new bond request. Capitol levies for priorities which are pay as you go without huge interest impacts should be considered.

Jim Adsley is a former South Whidbey School Board member.