Sound Off: South Whidbey school bond is only way to update buildings



On behalf of all the employees of the South Whidbey School District, I must address the Sept. 20 Sound Off by Mr. Adsley. I will vote yes for the bond because there has been no bond to address the school infrastructure since the 1990s. The State of Washington does not fund the regular building or maintenance of public schools. Instead, local voters must approve school bonds for this purpose. State law mandates that bond dollars be used only for buildings and maintenance, not classroom operations or salaries.

Districts may run supplemental levies such as Technology and Capital Projects Levies, which are used for technology purchases and capital projects. These supplemental levies are limited to a maximum of six years. The levies do not provide the necessary funding to replace a roof, siding or infrastructure. The bond is to address health and safety.

My reason for writing this letter is to address the data and trends Mr. Adsley reported. The district enrollment has been on a steady decline since 2000. Over the last 23 years, the median age of those of us on the South End has risen to nearly 70 years of age. The cost of living, along with housing costs, have risen. We all see it in the price of gas, food and lodging.

The reference to a failed bond in 2010 is a distortion. Gas was less than $3 per gallon then and it is over $5 now. The cost of school construction was $450 per square foot then and is over $600 per square foot now. In the meantime, our revenue is on a steady decline. Dan Poolman clearly explains this month after month at public board meetings. Feel free to meet with him personally if you would like him to explain this in greater detail.

Our population of young folks has steadily declined. Families have also found other means to work as well as educate their children. A recent article in the Seattle Times by Gene Balk describes this in detail. Be that as it may, the data from the ‘22-‘23 school year is skewed immensely. COVID-19 was still raging, so attendance was abysmal. Education was supported by federal COVID dollars, again their use has been explained. This certainly contributed to the increase in per-pupil expenditure.

In short, we retained staff for alternate duties and we increased staff to address learning needs and health and safety issues. For example, we had the equivalent of five health folks on site at any given time. We now have two. Of course, the cost per pupil rose. In addition, the cost of doing business has risen and remains higher while COVID funds are gone.

I am happy to discuss all we are doing as a district to address learning loss, changes in student mental health needs, our implementation of new curriculum, our training for our staff, and all other efforts that are made to reduce our expenses while still providing a quality education. There are many examples of doing more with less in our schools from all of us, including the superintendent and assistant superintendent. Both positions have accepted a decrease in salary through furlough and added responsibilities. The superintendent is also director of special education. The assistant superintendent has taken on many more duties for various positions no longer filled.

We are making every effort to address the needs of our students every day. Data is important and so are the reasons behind the data. Our buildings need to be updated for health and safety reasons. That is the purpose of the bond.

Josephine Moccia is the longtime superintendent of the South Whidbey School District.