Opinion

M&O levy has been a good investment in student success | Guest Column

By DAVID MCCAULEY
and HEIDI LOPEZ
San Juan Island School District Board of Directors

Ballots will soon arrive by mail for the renewal of the San Juan Island School District’s Maintenance and Operations (M&O) levy.

Nearly 20 percent of our schools’ annual budget depends upon the M&O levy. M&O levy dollars flow directly to our classrooms and after-school programs, providing additional teachers and instructional staff. M&O levy funds support reasonable class sizes; staffing for music, visual arts, libraries, advanced placement, and vocational tech; online classes; and alternative options for all our students. These are the same programs that are subject to budget cuts when the district is pressed for funds, yet they are also the very programs that often help students succeed overall in school.

The M&O levy has been a good investment in student success. Academically, students in our district score in the top 25 percent in the state and gain entrance to colleges and universities across the country. Our band programs receive superior ratings. Friday Harbor High School was recently one of seven high schools in Washington state nominated for the blue ribbon in the category of outstanding academic performance.

Over the past year, in response to reduced funding, the school district has cut non-instructional costs, reducing office and custodial staff and eliminating the middle school principal's position. In addition, we have had to cut programs such as elementary school art. We also stopped funding athletics, however, the recently passed Island Rec levy allows the school district to continue to provide middle school and high school sports. We are grateful to our community for approving this. The renewal of the M&O levy for the next four years is essential to sustaining the programs and services that we as a community value in our school district.

By state law, school districts are limited to the amount of local levy funds that can be collected annually. The San Juan Island School District is currently limited to collecting local levy taxes representing approximately 20 percent of our total operating budget. While school districts must provide the voters with specific totals for each year of a proposed levy, it is impossible to anticipate exactly how factors such as legislative decisions, inflation, and employee negotiations will impact our local budget. Historically, the district has collected a smaller amount than that approved by the voters.

The proposed levy totals for the next four years take into consideration anticipated increases for teacher salaries promised by the legislature, and anticipated cost increases for utilities and other fixed costs. Should these increases be smaller than anticipated, the difference will not be collected.

Ballots must be mailed or hand-delivered to the Elections Office or official ballot collection boxes by Feb. 9. We are grateful to our community for its long-standing support of our M&O levies. We are committed to sustaining the excellence of our schools and trust that you will join us in voting "YES" for the renewal of the M&O levy.

— David McCauley is chairman of the school board; Heidi Lopez is vice chairwoman. No public facilities were used in making this communication.

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