EditorialsSupport the levies

It’s unfortunate, and a bit misleading, that the Methow Valley School District’s replacement levies on the Feb. 9 ballot are called, well, replacement levies.

The levies don’t replace anything in the usual sense. Rather, they extend existing funding sources that the school district would be crippled without.

Blame the state Legislature — and not just the current one, but also many other predecessors — in large part for that predicament. Our state’s lawmakers are under white-hot pressure by the Washington Supreme Court to fund local school districts to the full extent that (as the justices interpret it) the state constitution requires.

Meanwhile, pretty much every public school district in the state has to periodically go to the voters and ask for extension of maintenance-and-operations (M&O) levies that keep the doors open and class sizes below unmanageable.

That’s the case in the Methow Valley School District, where the M&O levy which is about to expire funds slightly more than 25 percent of the schools’ day-to-day expenses.

Approving the levy proposal on the February ballot would be an affirmation of that vital funding. Also on the ballot is an extension of the existing technology levy, which will used to make sure that Methow Valley students are current and competitive in an increasingly technology-driven world. Both of the four-year levies will extend levies that expire this year.

It’s true that not long ago the school board asked local voters to approve levies to support repairs and improvements at the district’s schools and grounds, and to replace the district’s aging bus fleet. They are designated for specific purposes, and there’s no indication the district will extend them beyond their expiration.

Still, the total for school district levies keeps the per-thousand tax rate at a relatively low rate, compared to other districts in the region and around the state.

Ultimately it’s not a vote about terminology but about philosophy: What is the community’s commitment to continue supporting a school district which has a 95 percent on-time graduation rate at Liberty Bell High School (the state average is 76 percent); and where 90 percent of last year’s graduates went on to some kind of secondary education program (the state average is 52 percent)?

The time to nitpick the levy proposals with a line-item dissection is well past — there was ample opportunity for public comment and input before the levies were forwarded to the ballot. The school board has put reasonable proposals in front of the voters, and they should be approved.

Seeking answers

It seems always necessary to point out that anything said in this space about Okanogan County Fire District 6 is not personal — it’s typically about how the district operates, and the questions some policies and actions raise in the public’s mind.

So first, let’s dispense with the usual disclaimers: We appreciate the District 6 firefighters, paid and volunteer, and what they do for us. It’s hard to imagine a habitable community without them. They’ve proven their bravery and commitment over and over. And they deserve a new fire station to replace the outdated building in Winthrop.

That said, the recent agreement to put longtime Chief Don Waller on a leave of absence, while he will be paid the equivalent of about two years’ salary (for accrued vacation, sick leave and comp time) and continue to draw benefits before officially retiring, was sure to get the public’s attention.

The prime question about the leave is, what is it, really? Waller gets to keep his official car and respond to fires. The chief will apparently no longer be part of the chain of command, and his spot will remain open for at the least the next two years, but he will still participate in some district actions. How does that work?

Another fair question is, why did the fire district board of commissioners simply endorse the proposal that Waller brought to them, rather than have it vetted by an attorney?

We don’t doubt that Waller earned and deserves the money. But like a lot of people out there, we are asking questions that deserve satisfactory answers.

— Don Nelson