By Justin Paulsen
The Orcas Island School District has placed before the voters a proposal seeking funding for many important and critical projects. I fully support OISD in completing the critical repairs and upgrades to the physical plant. In fact, in the final analysis, I am left to wonder why some of the critical items originally identified by the district, and presented to community and staff as requiring necessary repair were left off the list. In deciding on the final bond project list, the district chose to remove items which not only had universal public and staff support but also left off critical uncompleted infrastructure carryovers from the original construction of the high school in 1991. The exclusion of these items comes at the expense of adding a new track and field to the campus.
The district has championed the track and field as a boon to the dDistrict because with the promise of its construction comes a $1 million gift to assist with the construction costs. That is a phenomenal gift, except that the gift generates a $1.36 million obligation of taxpayers funds to complete the project. That is $1.36 million that will not be spent repairing and replacing the elementary school windows and failing concrete lintels, $1.36 million that will not be spent completing the never completed high school parking lot and $1.36 million that will not be spent configuring the elementary school classrooms to meet the current educational needs of the teachers and students. Despite staff and community surveys which rank each of those items as being of greater importance than the addition of a new track and field, the district has opted to exclude them in favor of the track. Further, the gift obligates the district for the foreseeable future by creating a facility that will require an estimated $20-40 thousand annually in currently unbudgeted maintenance and upkeep expenses that will be added to their already underfunded maintenance budget.
And so, while I believe that there are many items of critical importance in the upcoming school bond proposal that desperately need funding, for the first time as a resident of Orcas Island, I will be voting against a school bond. My unwillingness to approve the bond is not rooted in a disdain for taxes nor is it rooted in any ill-will towards the school. It comes in a hope that by rejecting this bond we can send a message to the District that we need their priority to be focused on the maintenance and preservation of our existing assets for the decades to come, not building for building’s sake.