San Juan Island School District could cut sports, electives; meeting Dec. 10 on restructuring

The San Juan Island School District may reduce staff and programs beginning as early as the 2009-10 school year because of a decline in enrollment and reduction in state funding.

A special board meeting will be held on Dec. 10, 6 p.m. in the Friday Harbor High School library. The meeting will address long-range planning options needed to address an anticipated $717,2000 budget shortfall. The meeting is open to the public.

Cuts in staff and programs will become effective at the regular school board meeting on Dec. 17.

Possible scenarios:

— Move sixth grade to Friday Harbor Elementary School: $130,000.
— Reduce one principal: $120,000.
— Reduce two teachers, grades 7-12: $130,000.
— Return to a six-period day.
— Eliminate $180,000 in sports funding.
— Reduce custodians, secretaries, paraprofessionals: $125,000.
— Reduce supplies and materials: $32,000.

The school district will possibly eliminate all sports programs. Twelve sports are offered to high school students and are optional programs.

Electives that could be eliminated: art, music, physical education and theater. Slashing winter term would eliminate art, auto mechanics and photography.

As another cost-saving measure, the Anacortes, Lopez and San Juan school districts will share speech language pathology services.

Despite the looming task of eliminating staff and programs, the school board approved spending $5,000 for the hiring of five part-time assistant high school drama coaches and a junior varsity girls basketball coach for the winter season.

Assistant drama coaches hired for a three-month term: Lisa Duke, Dan Gillespie, Kevin Porter, Melissa Martinson and Jill Urbach. Natalie Chevalier will serve as JV girls basketball coach for the winter sports season.

The district is purchasing a new bus at a cost of about $86,691. The state funds a portion of transportation expenses.

Deficit expected to grow
The district expects a budget deficit of $1,257,098 in five years.

Upcoming expense increases: Fuel and utilities, cost-of-living for teachers and staff, pensions and health benefits.

To help erase this year's $600,000 budget shortfall, the “Save Our Schools” campaign raised $537,946. Those funds restored all teaching positions, instructional programs, sports, the Primary Intervention Program, special education assessment services and most secretarial, custodial and paraprofessional positions.

School Board Chairman Boyd Pratt warned of the future: “A magnitude of change lies ahead. We want as much public input as possible.”

A financial task force working to develop long-term funding options and study the implications of restructuring. From the community: Charlie Anderson, Cathy Cavanagh, Verne Howard, Paul LeBaron, Brent Snow, Wendy Wood. From the school district: David McCauley, Jim McNairy, Jill Peacock, Gary Pfleuger, Boyd Pratt, Ann Spratt, Ben Thomas, Michael Soltman, Fred Wood.

The school district is also participating in a lawsuit to compel the state to fulfill its “paramount duty” to provide adequate funding for basic education. A number of districts statewide have joined this lawsuit.

The Legislature is expected to address redefining "basic education" and funding in the next session. And statewide efforts to compel the Legislature to fully fund basic education is occurring through advocacy. PTA FOCUS Day is Feb. 26. The local PTA will travel to Olympia to lobby for public education funding. To participate, call PTA President Deborah Nolan, 378-3364.

— Superintendent Michael Soltman outlines the district's financial challenges in a public letter to the community. CLICK HERE.

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