School board puts kibosh on February bond rerun

Sooner, rather than later?

Not in this case. South Whidbey School Board members don’t want a February rerun of the failed $25 million bond measure to pay for consolidating half-empty schools and facility repairs.

At a workshop Wednesday, board members said the looming seven-day deadline for deciding what the do-over would cover — and getting it on the ballot — made talk of a February bond measure moot.

“There’s not enough time,” said Board Member Jill Engstrom.

“We need a lot more time to inform the public of what our plan actually is,” she said.

Board member Steve Scoles, as well, said time was too short for a February election.

Time isn’t the only issue, he said.

“I would like to see the public and the staff involved in where we go from here,” Scoles said. “Sit around the table and find common ground on how we can move forward in a way that we get more buy-in from the community.”

November’s bond measure — which would have earmarked $15 million for a new middle school gym and another four classrooms at the high school campus on Maxwelton Road, plus

$10 million toward renovations in South End schools — faced organized opposition during the last General Election from opponents of the closure of Langley Middle School. The ballot measure was soundly defeated: It needed a 60-percent “yes” vote, but collected a 56-percent “no” vote and failed to gain even a majority in any South Whidbey precinct.

Board Chairwoman Leigh Anderson agreed that the clock was working against the district to put the proposal, or a revised version, before voters in February.

“There’s just not enough time to do what needs to be done,” she said.

“Folks didn’t understand what we were doing,” Anderson said.

“In this next go-around we need to really make sure that we’re careful about communicating what it is we are trying to do with the bond and why it’s important to kids, address some of the conflict areas ... while keeping our eye on the ultimate goal, which is to stay within our financial means to educate our kids,” she said.

Anderson asked her fellow school board members to consider holding extra workshops in January and February. At the first, the district’s bond advisors and architect would offer advice on the history of bond elections elsewhere, and whether the South Whidbey bond should be put before voters in pieces.

Anderson also suggested that District Superintendent Fred McCarthy could then give his recommendations on what to do.

“From that meeting, I believe we would start to get a game plan together in terms of communication, in terms of what the bond is going to look like, and some sense about the timing of when it’s going to run,” she said.

McCarthy said the district’s advisors were worried that a second defeat at the ballot box could be the start of a trend that would doom other must-pass financing proposals, such as an extension of the levy that pays for maintenance and operations of local schools.

“They indicated a real concern that this next issue, when presented, has to have a very high likelihood of passing and a lot of support. Because you don’t want to establish a pattern of tax measures failing,” McCarthy told the board.

“That pattern could extend beyond just a bond issue,” McCarthy said.

Board Member Rich Parker, however, said the district couldn’t wait until January to start talking about what’s next.

“I think we need to be proactive on this,” he said.

The board agreed to hold a bond workshop at 3:30 p.m. Dec. 15 to continue discussions on the future of a new bond proposal.

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