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South Whidbey residents warn they’ll vote no on school bond

LANGLEY — Even before the South Whidbey School Board approved a resolution asking for a $25 million bond on the November ballot, local residents were telling them no way.

“I fear the bond will be shot down by the voters,” said Teresa McElhinney, who has a student at Langley Middle School.

“As you look at this bond, I’m afraid our family will vote no,” she told board members on Wednesday. “Going into debt when you don’t know what will happen down the road isn’t a wise decision, for a family or a school district.”

Clinton businessman Damien Greene — a 1980 graduate of Langley High School — said that he couldn’t support the bond because of his concerns about possible sewage system failures.

“If we add buildings, artificial turf on Waterman Field and a gym, will the high school campus have the space, and the additional reserve space, needed to add septic tanks, septic drain fields and stormwater drainage mitigation?” he asked. “That stormwater runoff has to go somewhere.”

Despite the critics, the board approved the 20-year bond measure, but it wasn’t unanimous.

Board member Steven Scoles abstained from the vote. Scoles is a long-time opponent of the plan to close Langley Middle School and move sixth- to eighth-grade students and programs to the high school campus by the fall of 2012.

“There is a negative sentiment in the community, a feeling that people are opposed to the LMS closing,” Scoles said. “I’m fine with it going into voters’ hands, but in the end I can’t sign off on it. There are other options and still too many questions.”

If approved by voters, the money will be used for facility repairs costing about $10.8 million, while site improvements and remodeling of the high school will total $14.2 million.

The bond will cost the owner of a $350,000 home $157.50 per year, based on a property tax rate of 45 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

Scoles went on to question the almost $4 million designated to pay for major repairs to the high school’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning plant.

“I don’t think we’ve done enough to get answers on these costs,” he said. “We should have done a better job getting specific costs. Right now, the HVAC numbers stick out like a sore thumb.”

At Scoles urging, board members then discussed two other options: Either splitting the bond into two pieces — one for repairs, the other to pay for remodeling — or reducing the overall bond amount.

Since the resolution doesn’t have to be filed with Island County until Aug. 10, there’s time to do either, Scoles argued.

“We could make the change at the next business meeting [July 28] and still be in time,” he said.

Scoles then offered a counter resolution to split the bond into two parts, and board member Jill Engstrom seconded it.

Board members Rich Parker, Fred O’Neal and Leigh Anderson said they opposed tabling the vote on the original $25 million measure, and Scoles’ attempt to split the bond went down, 4-1, with Engstrom also voting no.

O’Neal said that if the bond measure fails, the board can go back to voters next February.

“My feeling is that if the people say no, we can then split it up and try again,” O’Neal said. “If it doesn’t pass, I’ll change my vote. But I don’t want to see the overall amount reduced.”

Still, Scoles refused to give up.

“What about the community survey that was promised that would tell us how people feel about all this?” Scoles asked. “We need to talk about that.”

But Parker insisted the board move along.

“We need to come to a decision on this measure, tonight,” he said.

The vote was then taken and the resolution was adopted.

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

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