School measures on next week’s ballot
— Created February 2, 2022 by Kathy Reed
By Kathy Reed
Whidbey Island voters will decide in a special election next week on measures concerning all three of the island’s school districts.
South Whidbey School District
Starting on the south end, the South Whidbey School District board of directors is asking voters to approve a replacement levy to support a number of educational programs and services.
“The levy is not a new tax,” said Dan Poolman, SWSD assistant superintendent. ” It renews an expiring tax that provides local funding for critical needs not covered by state and federal funding.
“We see continued shortfalls between ‘full State funding’ and actual costs for programs and services,” he continued. “This levy pays for programs and services important to our community that are not funded or not fully funded by the State. Replacement of the district’s expiring Educational Programs and Operations Levy will continue our present level of programs and services.”
Levy dollars make up about 16 percent of SWSD’s general fund and represents the district’s second largest revenue source, according to Poolman. Should the measure fail, the district would have to cut its budget by 16 percent.
The district is requesting a lower levy amount for the next three years than the expiring levy. The maximum amount which could be collected in 2023 is $3.4 million, compared to just over $4 million in the first year of the expiring levy. That translates to approximately $.55 per $1,000 of assessed property value. In 2024, the rate would be $.51 per $1,000 and in 2025 it would be $.48 per $1,000.
“This is only an informational estimate,” Poolman said. “If property values go up, the levy rate per $1,000 is adjusted downward. The school district cannot collect more than the amount approved by voters. Increases in property values do not generate more revenue for the school district.”
Another factor that impacts the amount the school district can collect is enrollment.
“As enrollment goes down, the amount we can collect is reduced accordingly,” explained Poolman. “At this point, we are projecting enrollment to continue to decline by about -4.5 percent for each of the next 2 years. While we hope to see a different picture, we have to acknowledge the changing demographics we see in South Whidbey that has caused enrollment in our district to decline each year since 2001.”
Poolman pointed out the levy funds many activities for which the state provides no funding at all, such as student co-curricular activities and food service. In other cases, the funding from the levy fills in the gaps when state funding comes up short.
“Levy dollars provide for the difference between actual operating costs and the state funding model,” he said. “The state funding model underfunds some activities such as counseling, health services, classroom support, classified staffing, substitute costs, etc. [For example], the state authorizes by statute 12 sick leave days per year for each employee, but only funds the cost of four of those days each year in its funding model.”
Coupeville School District
Members of the Coupeville School District board of directors are also asking voters to approve three different ballot measures.
The first is a four-year replacement levy for educational programs and operations. If passed, $.876 per $1,000 of assessed value would be collected in 2023, $.928 in 2024, $.91 in 2025 and $.892 in 2026.
Voters are also asked to approve a levy for technology capital projects. Should it be approved by voters, this measure would fund the acquisition, installation and management of computer systems, projects and facilities. This would include purchasing hardware and software, plus training. Cost per $1,000 of assessed property value ranges from $.158 to $.172 and would bring in $450,000 in 2023 and $500,000 the following three years.
A final ballot measure for the Coupeville School District proposes a two-year levy to fund repairs and improvements at district facilities. The rates of $1.05 and $1.03 per $1,000 in 2023 and 2024 respectively, would bring in $3 million each year.
Oak Harbor Public Schools
The Oak Harbor School District is also hoping voters will approve a capital improvement and construction bond, to replace an expiring bond.
“The estimated bond rate is $1.89 per $1,000 of assessed property value,” said OHPS Superintendent Karst Brandsma. “The current rate for the Oak Harbor High School and Wildcat Memorial Stadium bond was $1.72. As a reminder, this bond will be paid off at the end of 2022 with collection for the new bond beginning in the spring of 2023, making this a replacement bond.
“We anticipate paying this bond off over 20-22 years,” Brandsma continued. “However, like our previous bond, the district will look for opportunities to pay it off early, saving our taxpayers in the process. The Oak Harbor High School and Wildcat Memorial bonds were refinanced three times, resulting in the district paying it off earlier than expected and saving Oak Harbor taxpayers millions of dollars.”
The district is looking to replace four schools – Crescent Harbor, Oak Harbor and Olympic View Elementary Schools and the Clover Valley Home Connection/Early childhood learning center as well as the transportation center.
“Our schools are aging. Each school is over 60 years old and has been remodeled at least once,” Brandsma said. “Oak Harbor Elementary was originally built in 1934. Any additional remodels would require a main overhaul to stay up to date on current codes, which in the end is a more significant monetary investment. The buildings were originally designed for schools during a time that is not suited to the many different ways learning takes place currently.”
Brandsma said the original buildings will be used during the construction of new schools, which will save the district millions of dollars.
“The other rationale is to eliminate portables,” said Brandsma. “These projects will eliminate nearly 30 portable classrooms in the district. Building a larger elementary school at Fort Nugent Park will cater to the area of town seeing significant growth and create better boundary lines for our schools, creating more neighborhood schools, which will save on transportation costs.”
Brandsma said if the bond passes, the district anticipates the new schools and transportation center could be completed within seven years. Attention will also be paid to making sure any new construction will meet sustainable energy efficient standards.
“When you add seismic upgrades and air quality upgrades, the real winners are our children, who spend 180 days a year in these facilities,” he said.
The Department of Defense is contributing more than $140 million toward the construction of two of the schools, which Brandsma said he believes goes a long way toward easing the tax burden on district residents.
“Keeping a level tax rate for our families is important,” he said. “We truly feel the $143 million being contributed by the Department of Defense for these projects is unprecedented. This is separate from the Military Impact Aid we receive to offset the lack of levy funds collected because federal lands are tax exempt. The DoD and the State funds are only made available if we pass the bond at a supermajority or 60 percent.”
Completed ballots must be postmarked on or before Feb. 8 and ballots may also be returned to any of Island County’s election drop boxes, which will close promptly at 8 p.m. on election day. Visit islandcountywa.gov/Auditor/Elections/Pages/Home.aspx for more information.