School board considers bond for new buildings

Kindergarten teacher Mandy Randolph showing off one of the elementary school's new computers.

It’s not official, but voters may be presented with an Orcas School District bond on the Feb. 2010 ballot.

During its Jan. 22 bond workshop meeting, the school board decided to move forward with an assessment of the current needs of the school’s buildings, specifically the middle school, in preparation for presenting a bond to the public. The amount of the bond is yet to be determined.

The bond will go towards constructing a new middle school and a career and technical education (CTE) building, and will be designed to serve the needs of the community; it’s possible this will include a community learning center for adults.

The next step in the process is to form a committee to conduct the needs assessment of the school district and the community. The members of the committee may include school staff members, representatives for the school grounds and the school library, one or two board members, community members, an architect, a contractor, and a CTE representative. The committee’s purpose will be to determine the scope of the project and how much money is needed.

Superintendent/Principal Barbara Kline, who participated in the discussion via speaker phone from Washington, DC, said she would confirm the committee members soon, present them to the board for approval, and work towards a timeline of the project to present at the school board’s next meeting on Feb. 26, 5:30 p.m. in the school library.

Voters approved the school’s current bond of $5 million two years ago, which expires in December of this year. The bond was used for construction and technical enhancements. A portion of the bond – $400,000 – was slated for a CTE building to be added on to the middle school. That project was put on hold after problems with the middle school building were discovered.

During the course of the last bond, architect Carlos Sierra conducted a survey of all the school’s buildings. His findings will be used as the basis for the current bond plan.

This bond is separate from the school’s current Maintenance and Operations Levy, which expires this year and will be on the February ballot as well. The levy makes up approximately 20 percent of the district’s budget; it is a rate of 49 cents per thousand.

The bond pays for capital improvements (i.e. buildings) while the levy is for operating costs like paying teachers.

“We want the bond to pass, but the levy HAS to pass,” said board president Janet Brownell.

The school board will provide updates about the bond on its website, www.orcasislandschools.org. The public will be able to leave comments as well.

“If 2010 is the year, we’ve got to make it happen – whatever it takes,” said board member Tony Ghazel. “We will present it to the public and see if it resonates.”

After the bond workshop, the school board entered executive session, where it discussed personnel issues. No decisions were made. Board president Brownell and members Ghazel, Scott Lancaster and Keith Whitaker were present; Charlie Glasser was absent.

At the conclusion of the bond workshop, the board began its regular meeting. Marta Branch of the Orcas Education Association started off the meeting by presenting certificates of appreciation (prepared by Superintendent Kline) to each board member as well as Payday candy bars in recognition of School Board Appreciation Month, which is in January.

Kindergarten teacher Mandy Randolph also thanked the board members for their dedication and showed off one of the elementary school’s new Macintosh computers. The entire district received new Macs through a technical grant.

It was a low-key school board meeting, with no decisions on the docket.

K-8 Principal Tom Gobeske said during his report that he has recruited volunteers to help keep the campus looking better and that they are resolving some of the remaining roofing issues in the high school gym, which was damaged from the snow.

Business manager Ben Thomas said during his report that enrollment is looking good, especially in K-4 and 9-12. The board commended Thomas for keeping the business office running smoothly and the budget on track.

The topic of free and reduced lunches was discussed during the meeting. The school is encouraging more students to enroll, as it benefits both the kids and the school district. If the school has a certain number of students participating in the program, it is eligible for additional grant money. Currently, 28 percent of the Orcas student body is enrolled.

Human Resources Director Sharron Mierau, who was acting as secretary for the meeting, said she has processed a dozen or more applications for the program since the beginning of this year.

“It’s unusual, but it’s a sign of the times,” she said.

Superintendent Kline said during her report that a state compliance review team is coming to the school on Feb. 20 to evaluate how the Orcas School District is operating.

“I think we’re on target, so I’m looking forward to hearing what they have to say,” said Kline.

Board member Ghazel spoke about the Associated Student Body, voicing concern that “there are practices we could be in better compliance with.” He went over some of the proper procedures for handling money raised through fundraisers and community donations. The board agreed to put a representative from the ASB back onto its agenda in order to hear regular updates.

The school district will be attending a legislative conference about education in Olympia on Feb. 8 to 9. All the board members and Superintendent Kline will be in attendance.