District superintendent recommends three levies for 2008

LANGLEY — South Whidbey School District officials detailed what voters may face next February in three separate levy requests.

The school board held a workshop Wednesday to discuss the district’s draft strategic plan and levy issues.

District Superintendent Fred McCarthy outlined the local levies and how they would be used.

The potential ballot measures include a replacement maintenance-and-operations levy, a capital improvements levy and a transportation levy that, when totalled, could cost property owners an average of $1.71 per $1,000 of assessed property value during the years 2009 and 2010.

The M&O levy would pay for maintaining class sizes, improving student achievement and closing a $510,000 funding gap for food service, transportation and special education costs.

The capital improvement levy would be used to make necessary repairs to buildings and improve technology within the district, McCarthy said.

“Under our capital building improvement priorities come two things; things that we do to improve our facilities and technology,” he said.

“The number one priority would be the water system. We know we have been dealing with lead, manganese and iron in the water. We have invested a lot of time in getting that system ready to go,” he said, adding that the improved system is expected to come online in January.”

McCarthy also hopes to resolve other issues, including heating system repairs, replacing the roofing in the primary and high schools and replacing or repairing the phone system.

He also wants to tackle a number of electrical, plumbing and structural issues that had been put off for years.

Included in the capital improvement levy is technology for students.

McCarthy and members of the school board took a tour of classrooms earlier Wednesday and discovered that many of the computers were decades old.

“It was disappointing to see the age of some of the technology our youth are using,” he said.

In addition to getting more computers, McCarthy requested increased teacher training and improving students’ tech skills.

The third levy would help replace an aging bus fleet. McCarthy provided a number of options for the board to consider.

“We have buses that are getting older and they drop off the depreciation schedule,” he said. “And if the district does not buy replacement buses, it runs the risk having all its buses worn out to the degree that we won’t be getting depreciation money from the state.”

McCarthy said the district could buy either a hybrid bus — one that uses a combination of traditional fuels and electricity at a cost of $250,000 — or two traditional buses that would cost $97,000 each. Another option: Buying three smaller buses.

The levies, if approved at the level recommended, would provide $625,000 a year for technology improvements, $250,000 for capital improvements and $100,000 per year for new vehicles.

After McCarthy made his pitch to the board, the members discussed funding priorities.

Rich Parker initially wanted to see more money for technology at the expense of transportation funding, especially if the money would be spent on a hybrid bus. Helen Price Johnson said getting new buses was critical.

“The case was made that we needed buses. They showed us on the depreciation schedule that our buses have over 200,000 miles on them. They are not long for this life,” she said.

“It’s only because of the incredible talent that we have in our transportation department, they are running as well as they are.”

Fred O’Neal agreed.

“Not that I disagree with your priorities,” O’Neal told Parker, “But we’ve kinda gotten into the mess we’re in by deferring stuff we should have taken care of. And I don’t want to turn around and do that again with the buses.”

In the end, the board asked McCarthy to go back and review the numbers, including the numbers on new roofing, the phone system and other projects.

Board members want to make a decision on what to put before voters by

Dec. 15; the levies would be sent to the ballot next February.

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