“Close, but no Seegar” Voters reject $45 million school levy
Opinion by Dale Wilson
After the second count, it appears voters refuse to put another $45,000,000 into the hands of the Port Angeles Schools District’s board of directors.
This should not be seen as a repudiation of the local schools but a direct repudiation of this school board’s questionable ethics in the perpetual mismanagement and recent closing of the North Olympic Peninsula Skills Center and the dismissal of several long-time teachers and administrators who gave a goodly part of their lives to the education and welfare of their students.
The Skills Center was born in 2002. At its conception it was agreed five “consortium” schools from around the county would send students and financial support to the Skills Center for training in career education skills including Culinary Arts, Cosmetology, Auto Mechanics, Composites, Carpentry, Auto Body Repair, Green Building Technology, Media Arts and other career skills.
Throughout the life of the skills center Port Angeles’ Schools District was to take the lead since the Skills Center is located within Port Angeles’ school district. The school district’s board of directors took responsibility for the day to day management/administration of the skills center, overseen by a board of directors comprised of superintendents of the consortium schools.
Operation of the Skills Center was to be guided by these superintendents and financial support was to be divided between the five consortium schools. However, the Port Angeles School District never billed the consortium schools for their part of the financial support and the consortium schools NEVER CONTRIBUTED A DIME TOWARD THE SKILLS CENTER. Contrary to the law governing the state’s Skill Centers.
A most telling exchange happened in one of the school board meetings whereat several of the consortium school superintendents were present and discussion of the Skill Center was front and center. School board member, Sarah Methner asked one of the attending superintendents, “are you going to pay us?” And the superintendent replied, “are you going to bill us?”
According to a comment in the local paper Port Angeles Schools’ superintendent Marc Jackson said there was a “gentleman’s agreement” that the consortium schools would not be charged. If this is so this is certainly in contradiction to the spirit of the law if not the letter of the law.
Further, when the local school board decided to “pull the plug” on the Skills Center they did so in a wholly inappropriate and possibly illegal manner. Administrative law requires a one year notice of intent to close a skills center and permission must be granted by the state’s school superintendent.
None of this happened. One day it is announced they are “in discussions to close the Skills Center” and within 48 hours they give out “pink slips” notifying instructors they need to look for other jobs.
Further, the local school board never attempted to explore other revenue sources even though they claimed it was strictly a financial matter causing the closing of the Skills Center. Several of our state legislative delegation and other local agencies including the Economic Development Council offered support in administration and alternative financing of the Skills Center. These offers of support were continually rebuffed by the local school board.
Add this to the slight-of-hand manner in which this school board attempted to raise over one hundred million dollars in a previous attempt to build a new high school building. During the run-up to that levy vote there was a constant stream of reports as to the inadequacy of the existing school building. They sent out school children to tell the city council and civic groups of the wholly inadequate high-school building with leaky roofs and faulty plumbing. Now, however, the high-school building is suddenly adequate to move all the aforementioned classes from the Skills Center to the heretofore inadequate high-school building.
Reports at the time include, during the run-up to the hundred million dollar levy the school district held off on their normal maintenance on the high-school building so as to make it seem the building was beyond repair in attempt to stampede public opinion toward the hundred million dollar levy.
Finally, both these recent levies were placed on a “special election” ballot costing the taxpayers a lot of money when they could have placed these levies on the regular November ballot when many more votes are cast. It appears the school board hoped in a special election there would be less turnout but a higher percentage of levy-supporting voters to deliver this new infusion of cash.
The only way to prove this theory is to get us a brand new school board and try again. I’ll support it. Many others will too.