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Board approves two school levy proposals for South Whidbey School District

LANGLEY — Money, buildings and student well-being were emotional topics ahead of the South Whidbey School District’s approval of two levies.

Parents, teachers, the superintendent and the school board argued over the essence of school funding. They circled and finally hit the issue at hand — what to do with Langley Middle School — and the answer was to keep it as it is, at its own facility, separate from the elementary and high schools and the rest of the district’s operations on Maxwelton Road.

The school board unanimously approved the capital/technology levy and maintenance and operations levy Wednesday night. Heading into the business meeting the only obstacle to a 5-0 vote in favor was Board Member Jill Engstrom, who objected to the capital/technology levy because the district had not addressed what the funds were planned for, to her liking.

“Due to the presentation by Dan (Poolman, assistant superintendent), I’m supportive of it,” Engstrom said. “It makes more sense to me now.”

The capital levy figures to bring in $1.2 million annually for the next six years. Poolman gave an approximate levy rate of $50 per $100,000 of assessed property value, but the rate is a moving target as the district will ask, by state law, for the fixed amount of $1.2 million. The rate will vary with property values.

A seven-page document was prepared by the district’s administration and presented to the board and the public at the meeting. It laid out maintenance plans for each of the district’s facilities on a six-year timetable. The more urgent the repair or upgrade, the earlier in the levy funding it would be addressed.

Langley Middle School most needy

Langley Middle School had the most items at 21. South Whidbey High School had 15; the elementary school had 12; the transportation/district office had nine; and the primary school campus where Whidbey Island Academy is housed had five items. As long as the list was, some board members were convinced it would not be enough.

“If we need to do structural upgrades, then we can,” said Superintendent Jo Moccia. “If we need to do something different, then we will look at that.”

One parent and frequent objector to keeping students in Langley Middle School disagreed with the district’s plan to keep students there. The seismic safety of the aging building has been questioned, but defended by the district. More than $1.3 million was earmarked for repairs and upgrades at the middle school.

“I feel like you’re gambling,” said Molly MacLeod-Roberts. “You’re taking a chance. It’s lives, it’s injuries.”

Moccia replied that keeping the sixth, seventh and eighth grades together and in their own space was necessary. Though there’s extra room at the high school, there would not be enough to house the entire middle school program. Plus, it would require moving long-tenured high school teachers and a “cultural and philosophical” shift by the district.

“When I look at it, with a new set of eyes outside the history, I can’t get my mind around putting a middle school program there,” Moccia said.

School leaders are counting on voter approval of the M&O levy, which makes up 28 percent of the district’s $15 million operating budget. Voters will be asked in February to extend the M&O levy for another three years, along with the capital/technology levy.

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