Concerns about levies
Yes, the local schools need to be improved and certain deficiencies need to be fixed.
But the bottom line is that no matter how much more money we putting in this “bottomless well,” it could swallow all of it and much more. The proposed levy request should be audited by independent citizens, line-by-line, how and for what is the proposed funding to be used as submitted by the Facilities Planning Task Force. The founding of the task force could be very biased and perhaps could not differentiate between needs and what is wanted.
So why do we need again two separate levies when we have already two going? How about just live within the current means. Money is tight, as one of the reader pointed out. The valley mostly lives on fixed incomes and survives on 1- to 1 1/2 -percent living adjustments that are no match to an 6-9 percent increases in bonds and levies such as Three Rivers Hospital, Okanogan County Fire District 6 and now the Methow Valley schools. Of course, for those with substantial income these levies are no problem. Included are the teachers with an annual average salary of $45,000 to as high as $62,000, and the position of the principal, with a salary around $105,000, but these salaries are regulated by the state and not levies.
If these levy proposals are not trimmed down and better justified, I myself cannot and will not support the request as stated in the currently been sent out information by Facilities Planning Task Force report to the community.
Sandor Feher, Winthrop
Editor’s note: Mr. Feher cited a list of salaries of individual school district employees as the source for the above information. Superintendent Tom Venable provided the following information: The average salary of a certificated employee in the Methow Valley School District is $54,000 and the average salary of a building principal employed with the Methow Valley School District is $87,000. Certificated employee salary and benefits are established in part through placement on the state salary schedule as defined by years of service.
If the steady march of housing development along the banks of the Columbia from Wenatchee toward Okanogan County concerns you, it’s time to pay attention.
For decades we’ve been protected in Okanogan County from similar development patterns along the shorelines of our rivers. The county’s current Shorelines Master Program (SMP) prohibits subdivision within 200 feet of the ordinary high water mark of our rivers. This means that extending fences down to the water, which restricts wildlife passage along the river, has also been prevented. So passage of wildlife through these riparian zones, recreational values, shoreline vegetation, fisheries, aesthetic values, human access, and salmon recovery have been simultaneously protected.
The county, however, has proposed revisions to the SMP which would not only allow subdivisions within the 200-foot setback but would also greatly diminish the currently required setbacks for other construction within the shorelines. The county planner has also ruled that this will have no substantial impact upon the environment county-wide.
Our county commissioners have employed a well-paid attorney from Seattle’s largest law firm to assure them that their plan is legally defensible. However, the new plan has not yet been approved by the county’s planning commission, which will meet on March 9 and has expressed interest in hearing from the public on this issue. Their recommendations are then passed on to the commissioners.
Clearly, our commissioners hope that the planning commission will rubber-stamp this proposal. If you have concerns, these concerns are more likely to be listened to by the planning commission now than by the commissioners later. Our rivers, streams, and lakes are the lifeblood of our valley and this county. Let’s speak up for these beautiful and essential features of our environment.
I encourage you to e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday (March 6), asking the planning commission to keep the current setbacks and the prohibition of subdivision within 200 feet of the shorelines. You may also submit written comments until the hearing or testify verbally at the commissioners’ hearing room in Okanogan at 7 p.m. on March 9.
Isabelle Spohn, Twisp
Education is unquestionably among the highest priorities for public funding. However, in providing adequate funding for education we must be assured that our tax dollars are used effectively and provide the most benefit to the students. There are a number of questions regarding the current funding proposals and funding provided to our school district in the past and how that funding was used.
At the Facilities Planning Task Force presentation on May 17, 2014, I asked several questions about their funding proposals and past district expenditures. At their July 15 presentation, I submitted letters to the school board and superintendent addressing the same questions. To date, no answers have been provided. The following are some of those questions:
• The 2009 roof repair bond was $1,850,000. The repairs cost $1,000,000. The district stated the residual would be used to help retire other bonds. My tax statements do not reflect those details. Where is that $850,000?
• According to the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, between 2009 and 2013 the district issued general obligations bonds totaling $6,659,625 of which $4,172,963 was outstanding debt as of 2014. A significant percentage of those bonds was committed to capital improvements. The task force mailing gives a very cursory outline of those bonds but no specifics. It seems the largest portion was spent on “technology” while the facilities continued to degrade. What were the amounts committed to capital improvements and what was accomplished?
• We have routinely passed “maintenance and operations” levies. Interestingly, as of this year, those levies have been renamed “Programs and Operations.” Apparently about 80 percent of those levies is committed to salaries of “non-certificated” (support) staff. How was the remaining 20 percent used?
As previously stated, school funding must be a high priority, but it is important that we know if that funding is serving the students, the community and the taxpayers effectively. If funding could have been used more effectively in the past, we need better accountability in the future.
There are several additional questions and issues remaining regarding the proposed levies.
Richard DeFaccio, Twisp
Get some information
The Methow Valley School district has been exploring the primary and middle school years International Baccalaureate (IB) program, which has generated some apprehension in the community. I applaud you for asking questions and doing your research, as that is the foundation of an IB program along with determining why and how it relates to our world, our community and our children. You have taken the first step to understanding the IB framework and are putting it into action.
What has happened this past week saddens me. The mudslinging has begun. The individuals who are not happy with what they have heard or read about IB are becoming divisive. Have you gone in to share your concerns with the superintendent or either of the principals? Have you asked them how IB could benefit our children? Anne Andersen has worked in two IB schools. Have you considered asking about her first-hand experience with this program? Have you asked your child’s teacher what they think about IB? You have entrusted your children to them up until now, why not hear what they think of the program? Have you asked them whether this might infuse new energy and motivation into their work and the work of our children?
One teacher said, “The IB framework helps teachers organize lessons so that students understand how subject areas are connected and relevant to their life.” How often do we hear “I don’t know how this relates to my life?” Wouldn’t it be wonderful for our children to be able to make that connection!
Yes, it is up to us to be advocates for our children but take the time to listen, to speak to our administrators and teachers and to reflect. Don’t jump to conclusions based upon hearsay before you go to the source and get the answers.
The underlying tone of some seems to be, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The only way we can be progressive is through change. Otherwise, we become passive and complacent and the world will not wait for us or our children to catch up. “Change is opportunity disguised as discomfort.”
Jennifer Elden, Winthrop