"A community is defined by its schools.Leap Year gives us one extra day to think about the importance of schools in our community. Children enter our local school system at age five and leave at about age 18. They attend classes in five different locations, the Primary School, Intermediate School, Middle School, High School, and Bayview Alternative School. The Shared Schooling Cooperative provides classes for home schooled students.Of the 2,400 students in our district, we have honor students, musicians, painters, singers, computer programmers, mechanics, Spanish-speakers, tennis and soccer players.Some children have outstanding abilities, some have limited abilities. Some have two parents, some have blended families. Some have every opportunity in their future, and some are homeless. Some have a broad network of support from family and friends, some are loners. Every child is ours. Every child needs the services and guidance available from the schools.When people consider moving to a community, the first question is often about the schools. Are they good? Are the teachers good? What programs are available? Make no mistake about it: schools define a community. The commitment each community makes to its schools establishes a standard for judging the community. The process of participation in the dialogue about school issues and the sharing of opinions helps solve problems. We need to discuss what we believe is important for all the children.Clearly we have varying opinions, but we can agree that every child deserves an education, a fair chance of gaining the skills necessary to live in this complex world, work and raise their own families. The effort it takes to make our schools better includes supporting local tax levies and volunteering in the schools. Both are necessary. As citizens of South Whidbey, we need to do what it takes to create schools that offer opportunities for learning to each of our children.Schools get their money from three primary sources: 74 percent from the state general fund, 18 percent from local taxes, 3 percent from local non-tax sources, and less than 4 percent from the federal government.On Feb. 29, voters will be asked to fund the local portion of the school budget for the next two years. Schools get local tax money in the form of Maintenance and Operation levies (M&O). These levies must be approved by voters every two to four years. Voters approve a maximum levy rate which is assessed to property owners. Since the school district requests a fixed amount of money, if property values increase, the levy rate decreases.Like a magazine subscription, levies expire and must be renewed. The current levy rate, which will expire at the end of the year 2000, is $1.54 per $1,000 assessed valuation. Voters are being asked to renew the levy, at the same rate, for the next two years.In our district, the levy contributes to a variety of expense items in the budget. The school levy funds textbooks for classrooms and the library, computer software and upgrades, additional staff to lower class size and co-curricular activities such as athletics and band.We currently fund 11 Certificated Basic Education staff. The levy pays for areas not fully funded by the state in the categories of transportation, food service, administration and special education. A portion of the total also pays for maintenance and grounds personnel, supplies and equipment. Staff development and training is an essential item in the budget with a contribution from the levy.As you can see, the loss of the local portion of the school district budget would be significant and would require deep cuts in many areas of district operation.The tax rate in our district is below that of most Island and Snohomish county districts. The following lists levy rates for last year in nearby school districts:Coupeville, $1.341; South Whidbey, $1.540; Mukilteo, 2.134; Edmonds, 2.901; Everett, 3.038; and Marysville, 3.793.Some seniors qualify for a property tax exemption. For information, contact the Island County Assessor at 321-5111.The Citizens School Levy Committee is asking each voter to consider the importance and value of our schools. On the extra day you have this year, Tuesday, Feb. 29, 2000, please turn out in force at the polls or mail your absentee ballots. Your yes for the school levy will make a vital contribution to the future of the children of this community.Debora Valis and Dean Hatt are co-chairs on the Citizens School Levy Committee."

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