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District announces levy details

Leaky roofs at South Whidbey public elementary and high schools are driving the need for a levy request early next year.

On Feb. 9, the South Whidbey School District will ask for replacement levies to repair and maintain buildings, to replace the roof on the elementary school and to fix roof leaks on the high school atrium area, as well as to continue to provide technology updates enabling higher student achievement.

The district will ask voters to approve a three-year levy at a tax rate of $1.03 per $1,000 of assessed property value, said district business manager Dan Poolman. This is a slight drop from the $1.06 tax rate voters agreed to in 2009.

Poolman emphasized that his numbers haven’t been presented or authorized by the school board, which held a workshop Monday night after the Record went to press.

“These are my best estimates for technology, capital projects, maintenance and operations,” he said.

The levy request is in two parts.

Poolman is recommending 20 cents per $1,000 which will provide $700,000 for upgrades in technology and $250,000 to cover repairs to those leaky roofs.

School board chairman Fred O’Neal said the district is close to the state’s replacement cycle for computers for teachers and has implemented needed infrastructure — file servers and such — but is still weak in work stations for students.

“The next step is to provide projectors, smart screens and document cameras in the classes,” he said. “And we’ve come to realize that tech isn’t just about the hardware and software; fully 30 percent of the money is needed for training.”

He said the emphasis for years has been on teaching children about technology, but now the focus is on actually teaching with technology.

O’Neal noted that in the spring, he personally paid for an on-line reading program for his 4-year old niece.

“When she entered kindergarten in September, she was already reading at the second-grade level,” he said. “There’s a tremendous potential for improving student performance if we choose carefully and spend wisely.”

The second section of the levy request deals with operational expenses which are not fully funded by the state, including salaries, food service, utilities and transportation. In the first year, that amount is 83 cents per $1,000, or $3,950,000 — the same as in 2009. In the second and third years, the district will need roughly the same amounts to cover operations costs.

“Based on information provided by the county auditor, the assessed evaluation of property will drop in 2010 by 3.7 percent,” Poolman said. “So we are anticipating the cost to taxpayers to be lower. But that depends on the economy and a host other factors such as the price of homes.”

Poolman added that the board must approve the levy rates no later than its meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 16 for inclusion to get on the ballot in time.

District Superintendent Fred McCarthy explained that the levy would enable the schools to maintain their basic programs, now that state funding for kindergarten through 12th-grade education has eroded.

“The M&O levy represents about 20 percent of our total budget,” he said. “Where the state used to fund approximately 50 percent, now it’s down to 40 percent, so the levy in February is an important milestone for us.”

For South End homeowners, the February levy is only part of the story.

The school district intends to ask voters to approve a replacement bond on May 18, district officials have decided.

Though the amount the district will seek hasn’t been decided upon, the money will fund the district’s consolidation of Langley Middle School and the high school.

In July, the school board voted to close LMS and move grades six, seven and eight no later than September 2012.

In mid-December, the architect on the restructuring committee will take program and staffing ideas and begin designing the remodeling of spaces and renovation of heating, ventilating, communications and security systems.

Once these plans have been recommended by the committee and accepted by the board, they will be packaged into a replacement bond issue to be presented to the voters.

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

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