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"Schools' future on the line, Parks also seeks support"

"Photo: Administrators, union leaders and other school employees campaign for the school levy on Wednesday at the intersection of Maxwelton Road and Highway 525. Closest to the camera are Scott Mauk, SWEA president, and Greg Willis, LMS principal. Sign waving will be a common sight on election day next Tuesday.Jim Larsen/staff photoAnd the questions are . . .Here is the wording of the questions that will appear on the April 25 ballot.South Whidbey School DistrictFor maintenance and operation purposes, shall South Whidbey School District be authorized to levy taxes in excess of all regular property tax levies in the district in the amount of $3,027,257 in 2000, collectible in 2001, estimated at $1.54 per thousand of assessed value, and an amount of $3,148,348 in 2001, collectible in 2002, estimated at $1.54 per $1,000 assessed value?South Whidbey Parks and Recreation DistrictTo acquire land, construct sports fields and trails, and make other infrastructure improvements, shall the South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District be authorized to issue $1,283,000 of general obligation bonds payable out of annual property tax levies in excess of regular tax levies . . . maturing within 20 years?Will South Whidbey schools continue to be adequately staffed, with a wide range of arts, music and athletics to offer students?The answer to that question will be known next Tuesday night when the votes are counted in the most important school levy election in decades.The school district is seeking continuation of its two-year maintenance and operation levy. Its approval was considered almost automatic for years, but voters surprised school supporters on Feb. 29 by turning it down by a razor-thin margin. It fell 24 votes short of the 60 percent needed to pass.That no vote set up the crucial election of April 25. It's the last time the district can ask voters for help this year. Another levy rejection would caused the budget ax to fall.Already, the school district's board of directors has approved a reduction in force list that includes 40 layoffs: 15 teachers, 15 secretaries and paraeducators, and 10 bus drivers and custodians.The personnel cuts would save $1.08 million next year. But that won't be enough. A levy failure would prompt $1.5 million in cuts in the 2000-2001 school year, meaning that savings would also have to be found in textbooks, supplies, athletics and other purchases.Jim Adsley, president of the school board, notes that the present tax rate for the levy approved in 1998 is $1.54 per thousand of assessed value. The rate for the 2000 levy if approved by voters is estimated at $1.47 per thousand due to new construction and increased property values. However, the ballot statement conservatively puts it at $1.54 per thousand.Adsley also emphasizes that South Whidbey's levy rate is lower than almost all other school districts in the surrounding area. Mukilteo's is $2.13, Everett's $3.03, Sultan's $3.60, and Seattle's is $1.62, for example. The only exception is Coupeville where the rate is $1.39.Although the election is Tuesday, 3,819 of the school district's 10,089 have already received their ballots in the mail by voting absentee. Loann Gullick, elections officer in the Island County Auditor's Office, said Friday that 2,535 of those absentees have already been returned. They will be the first to be counted when the polls close at 8 p.m. Tuesday.Debra Valis, co-chair of the citizen's levy committee, said she's seen a big difference in the public's attitude since the levy failed Feb. 29. People heard there would be some consequences (to another failure), she said Friday. We've had lots more help, lots more volunteers.Valis expressed confidence that the levy will pass this time around, but with one stipulation. We need every single vote, she said.Parks hopesit can expandAlso on the ballot for the second time Tuesday will be a bond proposal from the South Whidbey Park & Recreation District, which is asking voter approval to sell $1,283,000 in general obligation bonds.Proceeds would be used to purchase 30 acres and develop additional athletic fields for the Southend's burgeoning number of Little League, youth soccer, and adult sport participants. In addition, the purchase would provide more trail space and give the Community Park access from Langley Road.The Feb. 29 proposal was for $167,000 more and would have allowed already-purchased property to be paid off. The parks district commissioners deleted that amount for the second vote April 25, hoping the move would prompt more support. While 58 percent of voters said yes in February, 60 percent approval is needed to pass.The parks bonds would cost property owners about 7 cents per thousand to retire over their 20-year duration. For a $200,000 house, that's $14 annually.Parks Commissioner JIm Porter said Friday that supporters of youth athletics have been leading the effort to pass the bond. There's been a lot of support from them, he said. They're carrying the ball."

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