Letters | Feb. 3 edition

Support for school bond and levy

As president of OEA, the Orcas Education Association, I ask that you join us in voting yes on the bond and the levy. For the educational good of our current students as well as that of future students, we need to pass the current levy and bond. Let’s work together to build a high-quality, long-lasting school campus.

Gregory Books

President of OEA

We are voting “yes” for both the school levy and the bond. The levy decision was easy. That will fund the continued operation of our public school. The bond decision was harder. After examining the condition of the school, reviewing the school board’s deliberations, and assessing the architect’s recommendations, we support the bond as well. The bond will pay for repairs and new construction. The plan is to use durable materials and for the new buildings to be designed in a simple, modular format. Like the existing Nellie S. Milton (now elementary) school, the plan is for the new buildings to stand the test of time, allowing for adaptive re-use. If school enrollment goes up, the buildings could accommodate growth. If school enrollment goes down, the buildings, or portions of the buildings, could be used for other purposes. The bond will also pay for improvements to systems and energy efficiency that will reduce annual operating costs. In the long run, the least expensive approach is to build well and to maintain what is constructed. We believe the school board is proposing just such a project.

Laurie Gallo and Lisa Byers

Orcas Island

As we approach the Feb. 9 deadline for voting on the Orcas island School District levy and bond issues it might be helpful to recall that we wisely elected an intelligent, diverse, and dedicated group of people to oversee the management of our school district. They have devoted countless hours to planning for these two issues and have presented to us the result of input from all participating stakeholders. Every one of us had had more than one opportunity to participate in the lengthy process which preceded this presentation. However, rather than make that crust, peel and chop those apples, taste that filling, correct those seasonings, and bake that pie, most of us simply prefer to sample the result with little knowledge as to how it came about. Honest debate amongst ourselves is important to the health of our community, but it is only helpful and productive when it is based on knowledge. Therefore, it is incumbent upon each of us to take our questions and concerns over the current levy and bond to members of this board who are the only ones who can separate fact from fiction.

Robin Woodward

Orcas Island

We are writing in support of our schools and to urge voters to vote on the next ballot before Feb. 9. We have three kids in the public school, and so have first-hand experience with how the school facilities are badly in need of repair. Much of the elementary school infrastructure needs replacement – ventilation from the HVAC system allows CO2 levels beyond recommended levels in some classrooms, water in the bathrooms is brown from corroded galvanized pipes. The high school siding has moisture levels over 30 percent and rotten bits can be pulled off by hand. The middle school desperately needs classrooms with working ventilation systems and decent daylight, and combined with the library and cafeteria, do not have insulation in their walls, nor plywood shear walls. Last week, we probed some rotten siding at the cafeteria and confirmed that, indeed, we don’t have plywood shear walls, and to make matters worse, yes, we do have termites! We have sat in on many board and bond meetings over the last several years, and have personally witnessed how the board and staff have pared down the building programs to the essentials. They have hired excellent architects who can do much with our precious resources. It goes without saying that it is economically a painful time for islanders to be raising these resources, but to delay is being short sighted. Ten years ago when we first visited Orcas Island, the very first place we toured was the public school. We found a vibrant community of teachers, parents, and community members that valued education and celebrated raising a new group of island kids year after year. But to discover that essential parts of the physical campus are failing and have limited seismic stability is disturbing. We need to address these issues NOW. It is critical that we repair the campus and create a safe and healthy place for our island children and community. Washington is ranked among the states with the lowest expenditures per student on public education. Orcas has historically had some of the lowest bond and levy rates in Washington. Orcas’ assessed real estate values have escalated at a shocking rate, but last year, for example, Orcas had bond and levy rates ($0.63 per thousand) that were a third of Anacortes’, one fifth of Burlington’s and Bellingham’s rates, and one seventh of Mt. Vernon’s. Similarly, Orcas’ rates were about one third of Seattle’s and Mercer Island’s rates, and a fourth of Bainbridge Island’s rates. These historic shortfalls have finally caught up with us. With this new bond, these rates will increase, but it is time to address these shortfalls and give our school system the safe and healthy infrastructure it direly needs.

David Kau and Susan Stoltz


The Orcas Island School Board wants to remind you that ballots are due on Feb. 9. As most of you know, the two issues on the ballot are the renewal of the Maintenance and Operations Levy and a school bond. There has been much discussion over the last few weeks about the bond in particular. The school board wants to assure the community that when the bond passes it will continue to seek public input. The next year will be critical in the design of the building project.  We want staff, community, and parent involvement so that the final product will truly reflect all that you have asked of us, completed within, or under, the bond budget. In the future, we will be considering the formation of an advisory committee similar to the Budget Advisory Committee that will work with us to create the best, most economical, maintenance efficient, project for our district. Finally, we want to thank you all for your continued support of our island’s public schools.

The Orcas Island School Board

We have made Orcas Island our home because of its natural beauty and strong sense of community. All over the country we see places that have lost the ability to have the spontaneous, positive human interactions that forge real communities. Not here. People know each other, support one another and have an interest in the greater good, the community. It is because of this that we will be voting yes for the upcoming school bond and levy.

Like everybody we are aware that these are difficult economic times. Our family is dealing with an 8 percent furlough in one of our jobs and a reduction of available work in another one of our jobs. Fortunately investing now in public education on Orcas is a long term investment in our children and in the community at large. While it is the obligation of the state to fund basic education they don’t fulfill this obligation. Orcas, like other small districts around the state, needs additional local funding to educate our children, hence the levy. The $35 million dollar construction project to replace existing, but failing facilities will not only create a safe environment for our children to learn in but it will have a positive impact on our local island economy through strategies that are in place to force the creation of local jobs.

The School Board has worked hard to make the levy and bond as cost-efficient as possible. Now it is our turn to invest in our children’s education and the long-term health of the community.

Joe Gaydos and Julie Brunner

Orcas Island

We add our voices to those in support of the Orcas Island School District levy and bond propositions. While raising questions is prudent, accurate answers should be sought and carefully considered.

The levy is essential. This provides a significant percentage of the day to day programs and services that public schools must provide, and the old levy is retiring this year. The bond is for desperately needed replacement, repair, and enhancement of the facility. The campus must meet codes and requirements for public buildings, local expectations, and provide services that only public schools offer. This is a tall order with countless details, more than those of us not in the trenches can fathom. Input has been gleaned over a long period through public forums, a Citizen Advisory Committee, the Administration, architects, engineers, and others. This is the job we have entrusted our elected School Board with and they will continue to seek input as specifics are developed. We have confidence in their professionalism. We have an award-winning school, and many families are actually attracted to Orcas because of it. The bond will enable it to function safely and more effectively than ever, yet we will still be paying one of the lowest combined rates in the state of Washington. Every child in our community has access to this fine education. The effect of school environments on learning and teaching has been documented. The National Center for the Twenty-first Century School says: “the manner in which a school building is designed, managed and maintained sends a message to its occupants and the community beyond, speaking volumes about the value placed on activities transpiring within its walls.” And it has been proven that healthy schools are a key component of a healthy community. Please ensure this is the case for Orcas Island.

Susan and Wally Gudgell

Orcas Island

Don’t support school bond and levy

Thank you to the school board and administrators for hosting the campus open house on Saturday, Jan. 23. It was a great opportunity for taxpayers to talk to board members, administrators and architects, as well as to see the present state of the campus, and hear about the future construction plans. The goal, of course, was to elicit support for the current bond issue. However, my reaction to the open house was just the opposite. The campus in general is in a sad state of disrepair The fact of the matter is that most of the current deterioration and needed repairs are not because the facility has code or structural issues. These are problems that exist because of the lack of maintenance.

If you don’t regularly clean a flat roof system, including scuppers and downspouts, you are going to have water damage. If you don’t keep wood painted in the Pacific Northwest, it will rot.

The district has allowed the maintenance, custodial and grounds budget to fall about half of what funding and manpower was in 1997. The campus hasn’t gotten any smaller. The responsibility the district has to the community in the management of our investment in campus real estate has been ignored.

By insufficient funding of the daily maintenance and upkeep of the facility the district has not only allowed our investment to deteriorate but has set up the personnel of these departments to fail, (not what schools are suppose to do to people). There is absolutely no way that the job can be done at such deficient funding levels.

Board members and the architect assured me that this cycle wouldn’t be repeated because they will be able to increase funding for maintenance and custodial through the dollar savings of the new facility by increased energy efficiency. Really? I would guess that the savings due to energy efficiency would offset the cost of the new equipments, and hopefully help keep up with the increases of future energy costs.

Clearly the district has not demonstrated fiscal responsibility. They have allowed our investment in previous bonds to deteriorate. Now they are asking me to pay about $100 per month more in property taxes for the new bond. I must remind the administration and school board that they have a huge responsibility and a commitment of stewardship to this community on many levels.

There is accountability. I am voting “no.”

Peppe Picone

Orcas School District Facility Supervisor 1995-2001

The proponents of the renewal of the Maintenance and Operation Levy and the $35 million Capital Project Bond suggest that the passage of these measures will cost property owners a mere $1.33 per $1000 of their assessed property value. I don’t know about you, but I am still stinging from the 2009 re-assessment on the value of my property by San Juan County last year. That re-assessment added nearly $1000 to my tax bill. This school bond measure, if passed in its entirety, will add another nearly $1000 to my property tax bill. As an example, if your property’s current assessed value is $750,000, you will have an annual tax increase of $998. So, I would urge you to “do the math” before you vote on this measure at hand.

Bernadette Vinson


School spelling bee F-U-N

The PTSA is proud to have sponsored our schools’ participation in this year’s Scripps Spelling Bee.  Many students participated in an after-school spelling club for the last several months, learning words, strategies and taking part in mock bees. The fourth through eighth graders took part in class bees in mid-January to select 22 qualifiers to the school bee, which took place, Jan. 29. Congratulations to Dylan Thompkins, the 2010 Orcas Island School District Spelling Champion, and to Anthony Kaskurs, the Runner-Up. Dylan will represent our school at the Regional Competition in Mt. Vernon, March 13. Both received a one-year subscription to Brittanica Online Student Edition from Scripps.

Special thanks to Tim Hance for his vision and drive in making this year’s bee a reality. Many thanks to donors All Islands Inspections, Enzo’s, Islanders’ Bank, The Office Cupboard, Stoltz/Kau Architects, Teezer’s, West Beach Resort and White Construction Co. for their generous support of the bee in the form of prizes for the winner and runner-up, making the winner’s trip to the regional bee (March 13 in Mt. Vernon) an expenses paid proposition. Thanks to the many spelling club and bee volunteers: Jennifer Pietsch, Jonathan White, Kristen Wilson, Liz Hance, Bob Connell, Sarah Lyle, Kate Long and Sheila Veldman, and to the community members who donated their time to be judges/pronouncers at the bee: Nita Couchman, Lance Evans, Jenny Pederson and Chris Sutton, and to Principal Kyle Freeman for his support and expert job emceeing the event. Most of all, thanks to the many wonderful spellers at our school for studying, improving and enjoying the f-u-n of spelling!

Barb Skotte, PTSA President


Thank you to Orcas EMTs

We are the fortunate recipients of the aid of this wonderful group of people who give of themselves again and again to islanders in need. Often we have read of the EMTs’ rescue of islanders over the years, but it isn’t until one goes through the surreal experience of needing their help that their true value and expertise are fully appreciated.

Early Tuesday morning (Jan. 26) my husband experienced some post-surgery uncontrolled bleeding. What a relief it was when the medics arrived and took charge of the situation. We can never thank enough the first responders, Dr. Mike Sullivan, visiting surgeon from St. Joseph’s Hospital in Bellingham, and Julie Remington, and second responders Patrick Shepler, Ted McKey, and Cameron Fralick.

The EMTs responded to an off-hour emergency on the far side of the island within a few minutes. This rapid response capability and the first-rate team’s use of the latest life-saving equipment and treatments (in our case a recently developed blood-clotting agent) are reasons we should all continue to support Orcas’ fire/EMT team.

Bill and Francie Kisko

Deer Harbor

Become educated on senior citizen property tax exemptions

Many thanks to the senior center for permitting a brief luncheon presentation on the school bond and levy. In preparing for the presentation, I wondered how many Senior Citizen Property Tax Exemptions were being utilized on Orcas Island. A call to the County Assessor’s office told me there are fewer than 200 Seniors on Orcas who have applied and been accepted as exempt.

At the luncheon it came up in conversation that there was a misperception that a person could lose their property if they took the exemption. There are two different tax reduction programs: the first, is a program whereby a senior over the age of 61, or a disabled individual is eligible to qualify for property tax relief in the form of exemption, if their tax return demonstrates their eligibility. The other type of reduction is a property tax deferral program. Please become informed about these important property tax programs. Jane Heisinger at the Senior Center has offered to discuss this with anyone who would like to explore the possibilities. Members of the school’s Budget Advisory Group have volunteered to come in for a workshop, or as needed, to help fill out the applications.

Marian O’Brien

Orcas Island

Now is the time to show your support for the Exchange on Orcas Island.

The County Council is making important decisions that will affect the cost of dumping garbage and recycling at the Orcas transfer station and your access to and the continuing viability of the Exchange.

In response to reduced income from garbage tipping fees and a long-standing lack of capital funding the council is cutting services at the Orcas transfer station (closing on Fridays starting Feb. 26) and devising a new fee schedule. The fee schedules under consideration increase the cost of self hauling and may include a “gate fee” to enter the transfer facility.

The “Take it or Leave it” on Lopez and the Exchange on Orcas depend on self haulers to bring and take reusable materials that would otherwise be exported as waste. Any fee increases that further shift the costs of county waste programs to self haulers are contrary to the goals of the county’s Solid Waste Management Plan, which call for an aggressive waste reduction program.

The County Council must find a funding formula for solid waste that will include and encourage waste reduction not penalize it.

The County Council is meeting Monday, Feb. 8 at the Eastsound Fire Hall. This might be the last chance for supporters of the Exchange to influence their thinking in person.

I’m asking you to attend, to stand up and be counted in support of the Exchange. See you at 10 a.m. at the fire hall on Monday, Feb. 8.

George Post

Founder of the Exchange