Our taxes, our schools, our sustainability

Orcas Islanders do take care of their own, to use the words of Joe Cohen, Development Chair for the Orcas Island Community Foundation.

They do this by volunteering muscle, expertise, leadership and creativity, and they do it by putting their money where their mouth is, in paying taxes and making individual donations.

The community’s generosity in supporting the public schools is especially noteworthy. Not only do we fund the schools through our property taxes, but we fill in the gap created by insufficient state funding with individual donations, many of them shepherded by OICF and the Orcas Island Education Foundation.

In meetings with state officials, our school board has been told repeatedly that the Legislature’s Education Task Force will redefine Basic Education (described in the State Constitution as the state’s primary responsibility). Public input is encouraged by communicating with the Task Force at www.leg.wa.gov/Joint/Committees/BEF, or email bef@wsipp.wa.gov or call 360-586-3952. The Task Force will present its recommendations to the State Legislature next January.

The Orcas Island School District, however, is intent on solutions for our community schools in the meantime. On Sept. 16, Board President Janet Brownell and District Superintendent/High School Principal Barbara Kline gave testimony to the Task Force to promote specific OISD solutions that have come from the board, the district and district staff.

One of these ideas is put forth in Tony Ghazel’s guest opinion in this issue of the Sounder. Ghazel will be advocating a local levy lift to the Washington State School Directors and Administrators at their conference, Sept. 26 and 27.

While this funding solution is meant to be temporary, the OISD board is to be commended for advancing solutions rather than viewpoints or criticism. They are making the Orcas School district a poster child for addressing education funding problems in Washington state.

Currently, most local Orcas taxpayers contribute $5.54625 per $1,000 property valuation, according to County Assessor Charles Zalmanek. (Those who also pay Cemetery District taxes are assessed $5.55246). These taxes break down as follows:

State school levy $2.19203

Orcas school levy .48497

Orcas school bond .42958

Orcas fire district .94221

Orcas library .26206

Orcas port district .09132

County roads .51377

Conservation futures .03663

County services .59008

Cemetery district .00981

Ghazel makes the point that one-half of an Orcas levy lift will pass on to the state to help other needy districts. So while the lion’s share of county taxes already go to state education, the increase in the school levy proposed by the board elevates the local district’s levies to slightly more than what we pay for roads and county government.

We have been through years of cutting, scrimping, saving and giving to fill in the holes left by the state’s shortcomings in fully funding public education. We have real leaders in administration, on the board and in the community to remedy the shortfalls for the education of our future leaders. We should stand behind them as they make their pitch to the state to take care of our own.