ENACTING THE PLAN – La Conner School District Superintendent Whitney Meissner summed up the district’s strategic plan. Part three is communications, both internal and external. She spoke at the La Conner Rotary Club’s second annual Farmer-Merchant Dinner Monday at Maple Hall. Those are drawings of the coming La Conner Regional Library behind her. – Photo by Ken Stern
Chamber forum has La Conner leaders taking center stage
The air outside was cold, and snow was on the ground. But the atmosphere inside the Bruce Performing Arts Center Wednesday night was warm and fuzzy. La Conner Mayor Ramon Hayes, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Whitney Meissner, Town Administrator Scott Thomas and Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Heather Carter addressed about 20 people who braved the late winter weather to attend what was an upbeat public forum coordinated by the Chamber and which Carter indicated could become an annual event. Port of Skagit La Conner Marina Harbormaster Darla Pyke didn’t attend due to travel conditions. The panel of community members reflected on key milestones that have been reached and offered mostly optimistic outlooks. Hayes cited $20 million in capital improvement initiatives undertaken by the Town over the past 12 years, the most recent being a $1.7 million water main replacement on La Conner-Whitney Road north of McLean and Downey Roads. Other Town projects over that time span have included street and infrastructure upgrades, development of a skateboard park off North Sixth Street and the popular waterfront boardwalk. “Some of these have been visible,” said Hayes, “and some not.” Things will calm down on that front in the near future, Hayes said, noting that even grant-funded projects have required financial outlays from the Town. “Our revenues are stable,” said Hayes. “But with those projects a lot of times matching funds are required. So now we’re going to take a breather and allow our coffers to refill. Actually, reset is the term I like to use.” It will be full-speed ahead in the policy arena, though, as Hayes said unfinished business remains in terms of promoting additional affordable housing in La Conner and crafting strategies to return the vacant former Moore-Clark site to productive use. Hayes said he advocates extension of the Town’s density bonus across the board to encourage more cottage-style housing construction here that would benefit residents of all ages. As for the once-industrial Moore-Clark property, Hayes said the Town should assume a lead role in making it an attractive location. In addition, Hayes outlined plans by the Town to request $700,000 from the state legislature toward construction of a new library facility. “This is a project,” he stressed, “that absolutely has to happen.” Thomas started the upbeat presentations. He praised the Town Planning Commission’s work last year updating La Conner’s Comprehensive Plan – basically a blueprint for the community’s future. “The changes that were made keep us in compliance with state law,” said Thomas, “and reflect the wishes of the town.” He praised former La Conner fire chief Josh Morrison for having done an excellent job before passing the baton to Aaron Reinstra. “The fire department,” Thomas said, “is the glue that helps hold the community together, and I know Aaron will carry on Josh’s good work.” Thomas said he is optimistic the long-sought new elevator at Maple Hall will be realized soon, allowing its return as an expanded community venue. Meissner, whose campus auditorium provided the setting for the meeting, expressed gratitude for voter support in passing last month’s school district level proposal at a 70 per cent favorable rate. “I believe that was the largest (margin) in the county,” she said. Meissner praised school staff for fostering a positive and nurturing student-centered learning environment. “The feedback we had from our recent Principal for a Day event was so heartwarming,” she said. “Those who participated talked about how great it felt to spend that time in our schools.” Meissner said she feels blessed every day to work with La Conner students and be involved in public education. “Our students,” she said, “know their teachers are all in for them, that we believe in them.” Meissner said tax equity is a key issue the district is working on with the Swinomish Tribal Community. Her goal is to seek increased federal impact aid money – funds provided to school districts with military bases and native American reservations – to help meet campus facility needs. “It’s a matter of how to upgrade facilities without overtaxing our residents,” she said. State mandates capping class sizes, while beneficial to instruction and learning, necessitates new classroom construction when student populations increase. “And there are only so many classrooms in our elementary school,” Meissner said. Meissner manages the budget to offer students opportunities for personal growth outside the classroom. “I’m proud,” she said, “that nearly every student is involved in an extracurricular activity.” Audience member Dave Buchan noting there is much waterfront activity in La Conner, lamented the recent closure at the marina of Boater’s Discount, a long-established local business whose lease expires this month. “We have a thriving boating community,” Buchan said. “We need a chandlery here in town. We can’t be sending boaters to Anacortes for all their supplies.” Any prolonged delay in securing a successor to Boater’s Discount would be problematic, said Buchan. “That’s not acceptable for our boating community,” he said. Hayes shared Buchan’s concern. “We don’t want to lose businesses,” he stressed. “We want to add businesses.” Carter, billing La Conner as a “Tiny Town with Big Charm,” outlined her role in promoting business in La Conner. “Ninety per cent of the time,” she said, “I’m hitting the pavement trying to figure out how to get people to come to La Conner as a tourist destination. Geography works in her favor. “I feel very fortunate to work in a community like La Conner,” Carter said. Even on those rare occasions when the weather doesn’t cooperate. “It’s our annual daffodil festival,” she said, “but if you look out the window today it’d be hard to believe.”
Twice last week Whitney Meissner, superintendent of the La Conner school district, enacted a cornerstone of the district’s strategic plan: communications. Last Wednesday Meissner hosted a community meeting in the district’s auditorium. Monday she spoke at the La Conner Rotary Club’s second annual Farmers-Merchant Dinner to 115 attendees, including Town and County elected officials and staff. At both events Meissner first thanked the community for the overwhelming support for the school levy, passed with a 70 percent yes vote Feb.12. She applauded the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community’s $1.6 million annual contribution to the district, said the capital bond and debt repayment is discussed with their tax committee and told of a coming Washington, D.C. meeting to advocate for monies for districts “with significant amounts of federal lands,” which are not taxed. Meissner said she was proud the school district was one of three in the state part of a lawsuit brought by Skagit County against three U.S. pharmaceutical companies for “children impacted by [their] decisions, [their] greed” for flooding the country with opioids. The case was filed in January, 2018 by Skagit County in U.S. District Court in Seattle. She also thanked the Rotary Club for its support and urged participation in next year’s Smelt Derby. The dinner highlighted other Rotary Club supported projects: the La Conner library and Club sponsored educational and economic development programs in and near Copan, Honduras. Library Foundation Director Susan Macek, a former Club president, gave an upbeat talk, reviewing the library’s origins and decades as a volunteer driven entity. She, too, thanked the community. The library plans a 5,500 square foot building on its property at Sixth and Morris Streets, 2.5 times the present building’s size. The entire community will have access to a much needed meeting space, a big selling point, she said. She envisions resources being in demand and used by everyone, including tourists.
Jim Airy, Library Foundation board president, was also appreciative of local support, saying the $1.2 million dollars raised to date equals $255 per person in the 4,000 person library district. This Club has contributed $20,000. He recounted a Town organized Valentine’s Day trip to Olympia to ask area legislators for $700,000 while extending the deadline for the $500,000 appropriated in 2018. Airy believes another $100,000 will be raised locally and that Skagit County will provide $500,000 economic development funds. District 1 Commissioner Ron Wesen went to the state capitol last month and attended Monday. The Club’s Marty Pease finished the evening with her slide presentation on two Club projects supporting Mayan villages in the region of Copan, Honduras. The International Project Alliance has 10 Skagit County rotary clubs’ involvement in bringing backpacks of supplies to children as part of supporting their education. An economic initiative funds a program for rapid development, training and employing a community organizer. The Club recruits La Conner and area high school students into a YES team (Youth Engaged in Service). The students first conduct over 80 hours of volunteer service locally, raise funds and participate in a humanitarian service trip in the Copan region. The teens work with village families. Club President John Milnor closed the evening thanking the attendees for coming and inviting them back for the August auction, the Club’s biggest fundraiser, also in Maple Hall.