School backers lay low ahead of South Whidbey levy vote

Dean Hatt greets commuters along Highway 525 in Freeland on Monday. Voters received their mail-in ballots last week, which must be returned Feb. 12.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Dean Hatt greets commuters along Highway 525 in Freeland on Monday. Voters received their mail-in ballots last week, which must be returned Feb. 12.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

Counting on parents, teachers and the school board, South Whidbey’s levy committee has laid low this election.

Ballots were mailed last week. Now the fate of $5.9 million annually for the next few years rests largely on a word-of-mouth campaign before the Feb. 12 vote deadline.

“It seems like we’re lying low, I just don’t think there’s anybody who’s raising an objection to it,” said Dean Hatt, co-chair of the levy committee.

Added Hatt: “The strategy has always been the students, parents, grandparents, the friends and families understand the importance of the yes vote for the school district.”

At stake is 39 percent of the district’s $15 million budget. The school board is seeking a six-year extension of its maintenance and operations levy, which brings in $3.9 million every year. A second levy request is for capital/technology, mostly earmarked for repairs and upgrades to the district’s aging facilities.

Steve Scoles, chairman of the school board, said in an earlier Record story that the capital/tech levy increase was necessary because voters rejected a bond measure sought in 2010. That bond’s failure to gain 60 percent approval marked an end to a long streak of voter support for South Whidbey schools.

“They just run the rabbit,” said Dennis Hunter, the levy committee’s other co-chair. “People are just so supportive of schools here.” 

Securing a majority yes vote, however, has been relegated to $273.50 worth of yellow “Vote yes schools” signs and a three-quarter page advertisement in the Record. Some of the larger signs were posted at high-traffic areas like Whidbey Island Bank in Clinton, the intersection of Maxwelton Road and Highway 525 and the Freeland U-Haul.

“I would have liked to have bought twice as many as we did,” Hatt said.

The nature of mail-in ballots has changed the way the committee promotes the levy. And the nature of the previous presidential elections, often filled with excessive phone calls and attack ads, deterred the committee from using a phone tree this time around.

“I said the next guy that calls, I’m not voting for him,” Hunter said of the November election.

Hunter is new to the levy election battle. As a former teacher and school administrator, he relied on the consistent support of taxpayers and voters within the school district.

Hatt is a veteran of levy elections. This year marks the sixth levy election he has worked on. One of the elections should count twice, because it failed — by only a handful of votes — and was sought again a few months later.

“We’re doing everything we’ve done in the past to get the word out,” Hatt said.

Superintendent Jo Moccia has stumped at various organizations, such as the South Whidbey Kiwanis, to plead the school district’s case.

An information session scheduled for Feb. 6, a week before the Feb. 12 deadline to return ballots, was also planned by the school board to take place at the New Commons at South Whidbey High School at 7 p.m.

“The concern is the time of the year, and will people remember to support it,” Hunter said. “And the economy is what it is, so you always worry."

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