UPDATE (below, within article): Have you recently heard these local cries from the Oak Harbor School District (OHSD): “We have no money for textbooks!?!” and “Our paper supply is being rationed!?!” How can this be? This certainly is NOT due to lack of funding. What it has to do with is money mismanagement and the diversion of funds AWAY from the children and into the adult pockets that oversee children. This year, the money managers of the OHSD will burn through $57 MILLION dollars for 5,400 students.
In WA State statutes specific amounts of monies are set aside specifically for things like textbooks. Yet, during this levy campaign in the Whidbey News-Times we find a letter from a 12-year-old middle school girl reporting that “In our World History class, over half of our textbooks are in poor condition. Several are held together by duct tape.” What a better ambassador for a levy could the school district want? The school district should make her their levy poster child, along with the high school girls, who, last summer, were out collecting reams of paper from the community, because, they had been told at school, that the school district had “no money” for paper. The school district obviously wants everyone, including the teachers and each of their students to “feel the need”, but “the need” is contrived.
Those same money managers who are crying that they have “no money” for textbooks are presently housed in a $4.5 million dollar administration building, a final cost after OHSD immediately made extensive post-purchase renovations costing well more than the entire “bargain price” of $1.8 million they paid for the old Alaska Federal Credit Union building itself! Was that a “need”? To this day, OHSD “insiders” misleading brag to people about the supposed “bargain price” they paid that building! The OHSD has also obviously have had more than enough revenue to hire and continue to pay a “Communications Director” to interface with the public, at a salary of $70,000 per year. Is that staff position a “need”? They also somehow, just last summer, found an extra $9,600 to spend on public art for the high school, right after it became apparent that additional federal matching funds were available. Was that a “need”? Much better to have public art than new World History text books, eh?
These same money managers have also annually given teachers almost $2 million dollars cash from their local discretionary budget to supplement teachers’ WA State-provided salaries. Is that a “need”? 14 of those 19 of the “extra days” given them are the infamous “TRI-Days”. These are, simply, across the board “bonus” salary payments. I think the teachers used “grading homework” or “after-hours work” as the latest reason for this alleged “need”. The currently proposed levy would increase that bonus TRI-Day money by 39%, and it would certainly help the teachers’ union president, Peter Szalai, continue his personal annual “bonus pay” rate of $33,000. I was totally disgusted when I learned about that figure of $33,000. During these years, as we are going through tough times, how can the teachers feel that asking for a 39% increase to their bonus pay is perfectly okay? Is that a “need”? How about taking away their “bonus pay” to pay for textbooks?
The school district tries to deflect all suggestions about using local funds for textbooks instead of “TRI” by claiming that “textbooks” and “TRI” come from a different “pots” of funds. Specifically, they differentiate between whether the money comes from Maintenance and Operations (M&O) levy money or Federal Impact Aid. Whether they do or do not is actually irrelevant, since local M&O levy dollars and 95% of all Federal Impact dollars OHSD receives are fungible revenues. Such disingenuous deflections by OHSD underscore perhaps the greatest problem of all within the school district: the lack of transparency. The stewards of these $57 MILLION dollars actively try to keep these numbers and facts away from the public, who may very well not agree as to why they have made these expenditure choices. The ongoing mismanagement of our money and the attitudes of our school district money “managers” are outrageous. Every time we have attempted to hold schools accountable in any way, such as via standardized testing, the paths towards monetary accountability and transparency come under attack.
I have long been a proponent of student vouchers. Give the parents the money and let them spend it for their children at the school of their choice. If we simply did this, a lot of this school district money management nonsense would go away. Instead, at this time, across the nation, the public school systems have mostly simply become a way to extract more and more cash from the federal government, the state government and from local property owners: the more cash, the better.
Why is it that we do not see the school district advertise statistics on how our local kids are doing compared to national averages? It’s mostly likely because they have little to brag about. One-out-of-five freshmen in the OHSD – this $57 MILLION system – NEVER graduate. Our local high school has even been labeled a “Dropout Factory” by US News and World Report. Perhaps we simply should have shown the folks at US News and World Report our new $11 million dollar stadium? I am sure they would have been “impressed”.
However, we, the public, are partially to blame. We, the public, vote for the members of the school board, the “head” money managers, and they, in turn, hire the school district Superintendent. The school board exists, in theory, to oversee this public “machine” or “corporation.” It seems, however, that these board members quickly become indoctrinated into believing whatever they are told by their employee, Superintendent Rick Schulte. What has voting “yes” on past proposed levies for school maintenance & operations and levies for construction bonds taught the school district superintendent and the elected school board? Simply, it has taught them that there is even more money to be taken from the public.
Are administration buildings, stadiums, teacher bonus money and art more important than textbooks? No, they not, so please send a message – vote “no” and continue to vote “no” as, otherwise, these local money “managers” will simply come after more local property taxes again and again and again, as they cannot do this to the federal or state governments as easily. If teachers are being underpaid, let them run their own levy for TRI-days, and let the public decide whether or not their salaries should be increased on the backs of local property owners rather than be paid by the state.
It is far more difficult to get out the “no” vote, because the school district even uses some of that $57 MILLION revenue to deliver levy flyers directly to voters’ mailboxes. Moreover, they have permanently tied these proposed levies to promises of increased teacher bonuses, so now we even have teachers at our doorsteps trying to get people to vote “yes”. Additionally, if, during this campaign, a business owner is found to be one of those “no” voters, the teachers’ union will quickly blackball that business and attempt to rally a community wide boycott of anyone supporting your business. Shouldn’t this make people just a bit nervous?
A “no” vote isn’t an anti-child vote, and it isn’t an anti-teacher vote. It is a vote against the money “managers” that oversee the funding. I would like to see the money get past the adults’ pockets and into the classroom, but it has become obvious that, the more money we give these school district money “managers”, the more money they simply squander.
Please vote “no”.
(Author requested name to be withheld).
This above article is one of a number of submissions sent to the Whidbey News-Times against the 2013 Oak Harbor School District school levy which never saw the light of day in that publication.
In Seattle, the Seattle Times actually prints op-ed pieces against the school levy. In Oak Harbor, the Whidbey News-Times suppresses such articles, and, instead, people are forced to “pay up” if they want something substantial printed that speaks against the school district’s local property tax proposals:
Here’s a Seattle Times op-ed piece against the Seattle School District levy.