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School puts $900k levy before Orcas voters

When school started on Sept. 7, Orcas Elementary students walked into a more energy efficient building.

As part of a state energy grant awarded to the district, the elementary school’s air and water handling systems were upgraded over the summer. In order to receive the grant, the school had to provide matching funds, which they secured through a $900,000 loan from Cashmere Bank and local donors. In order to pay back that loan, the school is asking Orcas voters to approve a one-year, $900,000 levy this November.

The terms are 28 cents per thousand of assessed property value.

The voters guide offers a “for and against statement” from Orcas Islanders.

Rachel Adams, Joyce Burghardt and Andrew Stephens wrote the following statement of support:

“The rehabilitation of our elementary building now provides a physical environment where our children and teachers have clean air to breath, clean water for drinking, and warm water to wash hands. No longer will children and teachers wear coats in classrooms to stay warm during winter or suffer from bad air. Old failing systems have been replaced.

“Our school district won a $900,000 grant to pay for half of the repairs, which had to be matched by a $900,000 loan for the other half. To meet the time requirements of the grant it was necessary to do the rehabilitation this summer while the school was unoccupied. The board, with the encouragement of 44 concerned Orcas residents, agreed to accept this unique opportunity, but because of time constraints was not able to seek a vote first.

“Generous island families have committed to raise $100,000 to help offset that loan. The rehabilitation will save on energy consumption immediately. Bond rates are the lowest in years. The estimated levy rate for 2012 is $0.28 per thousand dollars of assessed property value for only one year. Please support the positive steps our OISD Board took to create a healthy learning environment for our children.”

Melvin Shapiro and Chris Butler wrote a rebuttal statement:

“Section two says, ‘levy proceeds may only be used to support construction and remodeling.’ Of the $900,000 borrowed by OISD without voter approval, $250,000 has already been raided to shore up the general fund. For the district to use money borrowed for other than the original intent could have been a breach of contract. It does not comply with section two.

“If this resolution does not pass, OISD is not worried. They have said they can make the interest payments for quite a while by raiding proceeds from a capital project at the high school. That’s why they would rather spend money on grandiose plans for state-of-the-art facilities than do the necessary maintenance on the current buildings. They do a project, then raid the proceeds.

“If OISD would budget correctly they would not have to raid the project funds. Instead they use special elections, crisis situations, a building they haven’t maintained or a grant they can’t resist as tools to balance their budget.

“It is time to cut up the credit cards; keep the budget under control. Reject project slush funds. Stop irresponsible borrowing. Vote ‘no’ on the capital project levy.”

This past summer, the school board voted to borrow $250,000 from its capital fund to put into the general fund in order to pay its bills and make payroll.

In the past, the school borrowed money from the county when in this kind of financial situation.

“This is a common practice, specifically allowed under state law,” school business manager Keith Whitaker said.  “I recommended this alternative because we had the money available to loan from the capital projects fund. We could do so without jeopardizing any of the eventual distribution of that same money to pay for the elementary project, and because it would save the district the interest that the county would have charged. Instead, we were able to pay ourselves the interest – the general fund paid interest on the loan to the capital projects fund.”

There have been two loans from the CPF to the GF during the past few months. The first was borrowed in June and repaid in July. The second was borrowed in August and repayment will appear on the October financial reports.

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