Why we are supporting the parks and rec and school levies | Editorial

Driving by Buck Park on a warm summer day, you can see adults playing tennis, young skateboarders flying high in the air and families spending quality together. While it’s always been a hub for outdoor activities, the area has been revitalized thanks to the Orcas Island Park and Rec District. In just four years, OIPRD has gone from zero to 100 year-round programs and made major improvements to the park. It’s pretty impressive.

When the idea for a rec district was put before Orcas Islanders in 2009, a whopping 72 percent of voters approved its formation. Yet when it came to funding it a year later, the community voted down a 10-cent levy but later approved a 9-cent one.

We really hope that kind of short-sightedness doesn’t happen again with the current election.

The new park and rec levy is 15 cents per $1000 of assessed property value and replaces the old levy of 9 cents. If approved, it will start in 2017 and go for six years. Sixty percent approval is required to pass the measure.

When the district began receiving funding in 2012,  it coincided with an economic downturn and the distribution was approximately 1/3 less than expected that year. Distribution has remained at that level, or less, to date, due to the current assessed property values.

Despite that, the district forged ahead with its goals, calling upon volunteers to help with activities for youth and adults in sports, art, dance and science. Under the leadership of Director Marcia West, the district serves 1600 participants annually. This past fall, OIPRD logged more than 1,000 hours of volunteer time from community members.

In addition to developing new offerings, it helped absorb programs like youth baseball, football and wrestling and boys choir and ahs taken over management of events like the paper airplane contest. It also has a facility use agreement with the school for after-hours activities and drop-in sports six nights a week: adult basketball, volleyball, indoor soccer and pickle ball. In 2014, OIPRD took over ownership of Buck Park from the school district. Park and rec has resurfaced the tennis courts, upgraded fields, fixed the irrigation systems and made repairs to the skate park.

But there is still a lot to be done – and that requires more funding.

If the new levy is approved, the money will go towards rebuilding the dugouts, putting in proper drainage, making vacant fields functional, installing a sand and grass volleyball court, setting up a new kids’ play structure and adding another multi-purpose court for games like tennis and pickle-ball. Local construction companies will be used to complete the work.

We wholeheartedly support the rec levy. OIPRD services provide yet another layer to a well-rounded community.  Recreational activities for adults and kids – at either minimal or no cost – are important for the overall health of our island.

Which leads us to our second endorsement: the school maintenance and operations levy.

The supreme court has given the state until 2018 to fully fund basic education,  which means sufficiently funding schools to cover all students and providing adequate compensation of teachers. Washington has not made much progress towards that goal, so districts are still required to fund their own programs.

It is critical the M&O levy passes. It provides nearly 25 percent of the school district’s annual budget. Thirty percent of teacher salaries, 90 percent of music and athletic program funding, 75 of classified staff salaries (librarians, paraeducators, clerical and maintenance staff), 65 percent of English-language learners and staff training and 25 percent of special education are all maintained by the measure.

The proposed M&O levy will take the place of the existing one. It is currently at 91 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. The new levy would start in 2017 and breaks down as follows: year one, 93 cents; year two and three, 89 cents; year four, 88 cents.

One day we won’t have to use a local levy for so much of the school’s funding. But for now, we do. And we owe our children the best educational resources possible.

Please vote yes for two measures that enhance the quality of living for so many members of our very special community.