Community braced for big school cuts if second levy fails

"Photo: School supporters are working hard to ensure the second levy attempt doesn't fail April 25 and trigger major cuts in education. Erecting a sign last week school board members were Bob Riggs (left) and Ray Gabelein, and levy committee co-chair Debra Valis.Matt Johnson/staff photoLevy failure cuts certainIf the South Whidbey School District levy fails for the second time April 25, state law does not allow a third try this year. Since the levy supplies 18 percent of the funding, here is where cuts would come, according to a fact sheet from the district.* Specialists in music, PE, computer and art. While individuals who teach these subjects may not lose their jobs, they could be moved to teach in regular classrooms.* High school advanced classes and electives* Athletics and other co-curricular support* Field trips* Extra staff to lower class sizes to current levels of 24 in elementary school, 28 in middle school and 30 in high school* Librarians and counselors* Support staff* Custodial, maintenance, food service, and transportation* Textbook adoption money* Staff developmentSaying she wants to avoid scare tactics, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Lisa Bjork nevertheless sent a few shudders through the crowd at Tuesday night's school board meeting.The school district suffered its first levy defeat in many years Feb. 29. Should another occur April 25, the heavy cutting will begin. Bjork said state law does not allow another levy attempt this year.For the 2000-2001 school year, that means South Whidbey would lose $1.5 million. Before people, we'd cut extra programs, supplies and equipment, Bjork said. But there's no way you can find $1.5 million in supplies and equipment. Music, art, athletics, and maintenance are among the areas on the chopping block.The scare word RIF hasn't been bandied about South Whidbey schools since the early 1980s. Standing for Reduction In Force, it's the action taken to lay off employees. There's a verb form of the word as well. Teachers, custodians, paraeducators and others fear being riffed.Bjork said she has been going over RIF procedures with all three of the district's union bargaining units. If the levy fails April 25, employees will soon know who has been riffed.There was discussion at the meeting of what happened Feb. 29, and how voters should be convinced to vote yes on April 25.Bjork noted, however, that the Feb. 29 election hardly constituted a rejection of the school district. The levy, which would have brought in $3 million in both 2001 and 2002, lost by only 24 votes, and a 60 percent supermajority was needed to pass.In addition, the presidential primary on Feb. 29 attracted an unusual number of voters for a school election. It was a huge and record turnout for a levy election, Bjork said. There were more yes votes cast in February than the total amount of votes cast in the 1998 levy election, Bjork said.Audience member Wren MacLean, a member of the citizens committee that tried to pass the levy, said he was in deep shock when it didn't pass . . . it's just unbelievable.Jim Adsley, board president, thought there might have been some confusion among the electorate. Bonds are used for new construction, such as the high school additions recently completed. But this was a maintenance and operations levy to keep existing programs funded.Adsley indicated cuts will be painful of the levy fails again. Eighteen percent (of the budget). There's no way we can tolerate a loss of that size without cutting back, he said.Adsley said a mood about property taxes in general hurt many school districts in February. South Whidbey may also have been affected, although Adsley noted the levy rate here is among the lowest in the state.The board formally voted to allow Adsley to write a letter to the community about the April 25 levy request. The board and district need to do a better job of connecting schools to the community, said Bob Riggs, a board member. Good schools build good communities.Citizen Jamie McNett urged levy supporters to sign up 18-year-old students to vote, to make sure business readerboards carry pro-levy messages, and to canvas ferry rides to remind them to vote on April 25.Kord Roosen-Runge, another citizen in the audience, suggested there are some issues -- I don't pretend to know what they are, that may have caused a negative response in the community. Later he theorized that the recent resignation of Dr. Bjork, effective at the end of June, may have played a part. Frustration turns to anger, he said.However, Roosen-Runge also expressed support for the levy and attributed its initial failure to lack of knowledge about the proposal. I think some people were asleep at the switch, he said."

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