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South Whidbey school board strives to grasp its economic future

The future in light of current economic realities will highlight tonight’s public work session of the South Whidbey School District board of directors.

Of special concern is what to do about district facilities in the face of declining revenue and declining enrollment, said District Superintendent Fred McCarthy.

The board will meet with the district’s Facilities Innovation Team, a broad-based group of community members and district staff looking into what to do going forward.

The meeting will be at 7:30 tonight in the intermediate school’s Community Room, 5380 S. Maxwelton Road, Langley.

“Economic conditions at the state level are changing almost weekly,” McCarthy said, “but the demographics look pretty predictable.”

He said the district projects 113 fewer students next year, the largest drop foreseen for the next five years. This year’s enrollment is about 1,800 students.

McCarthy said enrollment affects not only the level of state funding the district receives, but also the board’s levy capacity.

As enrollment and state revenue decline, the district’s levy capacity drops too, he said.

When the district’s current $19 million bond issue is retired in 2010, officials were considering another bond issue to take care of structural and cosmetics problems in its deteriorating buildings, work that has been deferred for years.

“I don’t think we’re going to know the bottom line from the state Legislature before January or February,” McCarthy said, “but we’ll begin a dialog to see what direction the state is going. We’re preparing an in-depth analysis.”

The board also will be updated tonight on the progress of restoring drinking fountains to the schools.

The three schools along Maxwelton Road have been making do with bottled water since 2004, when unacceptable traces of lead were discovered in the water system, along with iron and manganese that were coloring the water.

As part of the project, the board tonight will consider a proposal to replace water fixtures in the intermediate school.

Meanwhile, McCarthy said the new system is ready to go, and the drinking fountains are expected to be back in operation after the winter break.

The $692,000 project includes a new treatment plant and updated fixtures in the schools.

Also tonight, the board will swear in a new member to replace Helen Price Johnson, who resigned after being elected to the Island County Commission.

Six candidates applied. They were interviewed Tuesday, and the selection was announced at the end of the day, after The Record’s press deadline.

The candidates were Ted Brookes, of Langley, a retired Navy officer; Kris Barker, of Freeland, a business owner; Jill Engstrom, of Clinton, a long-time educator; Thomas Fisher, of Clinton, a cabinetmaker; David Cauffman, of Clinton, a retired space physicist; and Dorothy Ferguson, of Freeland, a retired school counselor.

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