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New plan unveiled for schools

South Whidbey School District Superintendent Fred McCarthy issued his latest recommendation Thursday on the best way to restructure the district’s schools.

The plan calls for consolidation of the district’s schools on Maxwelton Road, closing Langley Middle School and reaching out to South End voters in February for the money to make it all happen.

Since he first announced the restructuring concept in May, several options have been proposed by parents and school personnel. But whether it’s Plan A, Plan E or any of the others on the table, the school board needs to move forward because things are only going to get worse in the years ahead, McCarthy said.

The district is wrestling with a $1.85 million budget shortfall next year, and prospects for future relief are dwindling.

McCarthy, who has no vote on the plan, said other options may surface in the next 30 days.

“The board will take what I’ve presented and fold in other ideas before it decides,” he said.

“The school bond passed in 1990 expires in 2010. Our continuing M&O levy needs replacement and it’s my opinion that we can’t wait to take action,” he added.

McCarthy said the district should ask voters to approve a replacement maintenance-and-operations levy in February 2010, a scaled-down technology levy and a possible 10- or 20-year bond issue that same month.

The proposed bond would be between $5 million to $30 million. A recent report said the cost of upgrading all the district’s facilities could run as high as $30 million.

But McCarthy warned that whatever action is taken, it has to be now.

“The board will need to make difficult, conflicted decisions on July 22, and taxpayers need to see those decisions being made,” he told the board and community members during this week’s restructuring session.

“I don’t think they love us enough out there to pass the bonds we need without seeing us making the tough choices,” he added. “We’ve been blessed with good public support and we honor the tradition of asking them only for what we need, not want.”

McCarthy noted that enrollment will continue to decline — the projected loss next year of equals almost $300,000 — and state tax funds will be imperiled by severe drops in sales tax revenue. The general economic malaise isn’t ending soon.

“There are signs, here and there, that things are improving, but not here on Whidbey,” he said. “Children leaving when families seek jobs elsewhere, empty storefronts in our towns and now possible ferry hassles, are all conspiring against us.”

After months of meetings, data gathering, reflections of the historical record and feedback from school personnel and the community, McCarthy presented his current thinking during this week’s special meeting.

In basic terms, the plan calls for Langley Middle School to be shut down. Sixth- through eighth-grade students and teachers will be moved to the high school by the summer of 2010. The district will actively pursue alternate uses for the middle school campus.

“This plan allows for all teachers and classes to be at the high school,” McCarthy said. “Every teacher will have a classroom, though initially some might be required to double up.”

The district offices will relocate to the primary school and join Whidbey Island Academy there. The primary and intermediate schools will continue their consolidation into South Whidbey Elementary School.

“Most sixth-graders are ready for change, ready to move on,” McCarthy said. “Parents need to have faith that their children can handle the transition and that staff will make it as safe and comfortable as possible.”

The empty portables behind the high school that formerly housed home-schoolers will be refurbished, at minimal cost.

“There’s no reason our building trades students can’t tackle that project,” McCarthy noted.

Busing will reflect a single start and end time for all the schools, which will all be located on Maxwelton Road. More drivers will be needed, though their hours will be cut, reflecting a single daily run.

There will be administrative staffing reductions as well.

McCarthy proposed one principal to be hired for both the high and middle schools, assisted by an assistant principal/athletic director at the high school and one teacher-director at the middle school.

There will be a single principal in the elementary building. An assistant will also act as a special projects director for grant writing, the highly-capable program and student counseling.

Bayview School will remain in operation for the time being, though declining enrollment puts the 100-year-old structure’s future in doubt. One director will guide all alternative school programs.

The number of librarians and counselors will drop as well.

Not all board members agree on the timing. Steven Scoles thinks the district may be moving too fast.

“There isn’t anything that urgent that we can’t wait for another year,” Scoles said.

But board chairman Fred O’Neal disagreed.

“It’s clear to most of us that we need to go forward on this,” O’Neal said. “We will examine the superintendent’s recommendation and issue our judgement by the 22nd of next month.”

McCarthy’s latest restructure recommendation can be found on the district’s Web site at www.sw.wednet.edu.

Jeff VanDerford can be reached at 221-5300 or jvanderford@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

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