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Search begins for South Whidbey schools planning committee

Jill Engstrom, a South Whidbey School Board member, remembers the challenges of a previous planning committee she served on in 2008. That committee became known for its role in the contentious Langley Middle School consolidation which was scrapped after two new board members were elected in 2011.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Jill Engstrom, a South Whidbey School Board member, remembers the challenges of a previous planning committee she served on in 2008. That committee became known for its role in the contentious Langley Middle School consolidation which was scrapped after two new board members were elected in 2011.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

LANGLEY — The future of the South Whidbey School District may well end up in the hands of 20 people.

District Superintendent Jo Moccia received an informal approval to appoint a 20-member Long Range Planning Committee for the school district. A report is due by April.

“It would take a considerable amount of time, because it’s not looking at any single thing like only facilities, or only enrollment,” Moccia said.

The most important facet of this committee, Moccia said, was that it is not resigned to consolidation of facilities. The coming committee will be unlike its predecessor, which put the South End’s academic community at odds over the closure of Langley Middle School.

“What it really has to do with is program for students,” Moccia said. “And we have to maintain programs for students pre-K through 12.”

“Frankly, the last thing we have to talk about is where we house those students.”

One board member said she was apprehensive about forming the committee, and even more so about joining it. Jill Engstrom was on the former committee in 2008, which began as a student configuration committee and quickly became a consolidation council.

“It’s kind of like dejá vu for me,” Engstrom said.

Moccia, at the behest of the school board, drafted a charge for the Long Range Planning Committee. One of the charges Moccia read and re-read was that the committee’s capacity ends at advice. It will not have authority to enact any district-wide changes without the school board.

“It’s important that the group know its role is advisory,” Moccia said. “The board ultimately makes the decision.”

The committee will include school district staff, such as principals, maintenance workers or teachers, as well as recent graduates, parents and other community members.

When the group publicly meets, which is one of the charges, it is expected to review programs and services for students, review enrollment trends and financial implications, review district policy 6900 (which specifies the need for a long range plan), review past facilities evaluations by architects, and request updated information from architects and engineers.

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