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END OF THE LINE

South Whidbey School District mechanic Skip Stephens inspects Bus No. 3, still in service but reaching the end of its useful life with more than 250,000 miles on the odometer. - Jeff VanDerford / The Record
South Whidbey School District mechanic Skip Stephens inspects Bus No. 3, still in service but reaching the end of its useful life with more than 250,000 miles on the odometer.
— image credit: Jeff VanDerford / The Record

LANGLEY — Bus No. 3 has seen better days.

With a busted transmission, a slight tilt from an under-inflated tire, some rust spots and 250,281 miles on the odometer, it has just about reached the end of its useful life.

On Tuesday, Feb. 19, the South Whidbey School District is hoping voters will agree to three levies worth almost $9.6 million for the years 2009 and 2010. Together the levies encompass maintenance and operations, capital improvements, technology and transportation.

Buses are a high priority due to the nature of their special passengers.

The transportation levy will replace two buses with more than 200,000 miles on their odometers, one each over the next two years, for a total of $100,000 in 2009 and 2010.

Currently, 38 percent of the district’s 24 buses have more than 200,000 miles and 66 percent are more than 100,000 miles.

“When we buy a new yellow school bus, the state reimburses us for the cost over a 13-year period,” district transportation supervisor Veronica Schmidt explained.

“Within five years, more than half of the district’s buses will be off the depreciation schedule. They must be replaced,” she said.

Another concern relates to the Clean Air Act. The state is recommending districts begin replacing buses that were built in 1992 or before due to emissions and air quality.

“Right now we have four that we depend on and fit this category,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt said her mechanics and drivers work very hard to take good care of old equipment but have a responsibility to replace buses when they wear out.

Even Bus No. 3 is a clean machine inside, the seats free of rips or tears, no grease or grime in sight.

“Riding a school bus is statistically the safest way to get our children to school and that has been and will be our mission always,” Schmidt said.

M&O Levy

This is an extension of the current maintenance-and-operations levy which voters authorized in February 2006 and which expires Dec. 31, 2008.

The state requires that local taxpayers pay 20 percent for normal maintenance.

“The M & O levy maintains financing for educational programs, student services and operations, currently rated at 84 cents per $1,000 of assessed value,” said District Superintendent Fred McCarthy.

The levy is needed to help maintain class sizes, pay teacher salaries, food service costs and other items not covered by the state.

Should it pass, the district will receive $3.7 million in 2009 and $3.8 million in 2010.

Capital projects and technology

The capital projects and technology levy covers repairs and renovations for school buildings and grounds, including the glass atrium in the commons, sections of the roof in the mat room and the athletic hallway.

Money is needed for leaks at the high school, and the district wants to fix heating units there and at the middle school. The phone and intercom systems have to be upgraded. There are several electrical, plumbing and structural projects as well.

“These repairs are basic needs,” McCarthy stressed.

The other part of the second levy deals with technology.

The school district wants more computers for student learning in the classroom and more training for teachers. If passed, the capital projects/technology levy will raise $950,000 in each of the next two years.

A fourth item on the ballot asks voters to change how school board members are picked. Today, board members represent five specific areas. The district wants to increase the geographic coverage for three seats — in Freeland, Clinton and Langley — plus two at-large board members.

McCarthy has spent the last month making numerous presentations to community groups explaining the district’s view of the need for funding. He’s hopeful all three measures will pass.

“We’re very optimistic based on what I’ve heard,” he said. “We know these are challenging financial times for people and we want them to know we’re asking for things the schools really need.

“The money is required to keep the district well-maintained and improved without causing an undue burden.”

For more information, visit www.sw.wednet.edu/sites/levy.

Jeff VanDerford can be reached at 221-5300 or jvanderford@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

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