Board member, audience decry South Whidbey school levies without plan

LANGLEY — Consolidation still draws the community’s ire.

The plan to shutter Langley Middle School was killed one year ago. Without a plan for the district’s shrinking enrollment coupled with its future levy requests, the South Whidbey School District and board of directors were criticized by parents and even one board member Wednesday.

“It’s an arbitrary number based on what we think the community will support,” said Board Member Jill Engstrom, reading from a prepared statement.

The three other directors present — Fred O’Neal was out of the state — all supported the contemplated levies.

Engstrom blushed as she addressed her fellow elected board members, citing the lack of accountability as long as the district is without a long-range plan as her reason for objecting to the maintenance & operations and capital levies.

“I’m not usually confrontational, this is really tough,” Engstrom said.

Her stand against the majority of the board drew the praise of a handful of audience members. Molly MacLeod-Roberts earlier slammed the district during public comments for not having a long-range plan, especially regarding Langley Middle School. The two said they had not spoken about the issue prior to the meeting Wednesday night. As a parent, MacLeod-Roberts has been for the consolidation of middle school students out of the current building, one of the district’s oldest facilities and the subject of debate regarding its seismic integrity.

“I just don’t understand what the plan is for this middle school going forward,” MacLeod-Roberts said.

“My concerns are valid, they are real, they are grounded on facts, not emotions.”

Use of class space, and particularly unused space, and the possibility of spending levy money to repair the middle school were among her top concerns. The maintenance levy for early next year was slated for $1.04 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, and the capital levy was pegged at 53 cents per $1,000.

“We do not need to spend it retrofitting 70 to 80-year-old buildings,” MacLeod-Roberts said.

The point was well noted by Engstrom during her rebuttal against the levies. Repairing buildings that may be shuttered as a result of consolidation, in whatever form it could take, would be a “Band-Aid,” Engstrom argued.

“If you target those funds toward fewer facilities, the money’s going to go a lot farther,” she said.

Superintendent Jo Moccia defended the need for the levies and the repairs. Items on the district’s deferred maintenance list are slated for upgrades and repairs should the levy be approved in February.

“This is really about can we get these buildings in halfway decent shape?” she asked. “Because right now they’re not.”

Engstrom argued the district could lose credibility should it seek money without a viable plan for the future. Money spent on a building that may be vacant in the near future, she said, would be ill spent.

Leaky drain pipes, cracked roofing and flashing and other facilities issues put a bad face on the district, Moccia said.

“I think we lost credibility because our buildings are in such disrepair,” she said.

Moccia was not an employee of the district when the board last sought a $25 million bond in November 2010 that went down to defeat.

This time will be different, according to one board member. “I feel confident the community will support this, just as they support the fire district and the hospital,” said Board Chairman Steve Scoles.

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