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San Juan Island School Board cuts funding for most sports; proposes contract with Island Rec

In Friday Harbor golf coach Bryan Germain's eyes, sports and education are one and the same.

The course is a classroom, and the lesson each day is self-discipline, patience, respect for others and, above all else, honesty.

"What golf teaches you is honesty more than any other sport I've ever played," Germain said. "In some sports, you can fake a foul, or the ball is out and the ref calls it in, or you act like you got charged. In golf, there's none of that."

Through the years, a high number of golfers have gone on to college, some to play golf and others to pursue other collegiate interests. But Germain is confident that those athletes took with them the attributes they learned on the golf team.

Germain's predecessor, Rob Sandwith, estimates that 75-80 percent of high school golfers — at Friday Harbor and statewide — go on to attend a college or university. "If you look at our team, they all have a 3.5 GPA or higher. It's only a small percentage of kids that don't."

But of 15 sports and cheerleading, Friday Harbor's golf team receives the least amount of school funding. And come the 2009-10 school year, that amount will likely be zero.

The San Juan Island School Board voted Wednesday to cut sports funding down to two sports per season in 2009-10. The district has asked Island Rec to consider running the sports program under contract with the district. Island Rec commissioners will decide this month whether to ask property owners to support school sports with a property tax increase of 4 or 5 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.

Islanders may vote on the levy increase in November.

In addition, the board voted to move sixth grade from the middle school to the elementary school, and eliminate a principal position in 2010-11. If conditions worsen this year, the district could, in May, eliminate one K-4 teaching position, one teaching position in grades 5-6, three teaching positions in grades 7-12, and a library assistant position, and cut $100,000 in special education spending.

Board members and residents used the words “crisis” and “shock” Wednesday to describe the growing urgency: a potential million-dollar shortfall in funding in 2009-10, a dramatic decrease in school enrollment projections because of the economic downturn, and the potential loss of all I-728 funding.

Initiative 728, approved by 72 percent of Washington voters in 2000, provides additional money to help students reach new state learning standards. It also dedicates certain state revenues to a "Student Achievement Fund," increasing revenue to the fund over time.

Under I-728, school districts are authorized to use funds to:

— Reduce class sizes in grades K-4.
— Make selected class size reductions in grades 5-12.
— Provide extended learning for students in K-12.
— Provide additional professional development for educators.
— Provide early assistance for children who need pre-kindergarten support.
— Provide improvements or additions to school facilities which are directly related to class-size reductions and extended learning opportunities.

I-728 is funded from state property tax and any extra money from the state's Emergency Reserve Fund. Until the 2004-05 school year, the state lottery contributed to I-728.

Superintendent Michael Soltman and School Board member David McCauley urged the board to prepare for the worst.

“We have to have a crisis plan in place by May if things get worse,” McCauley said.

Soltman added, “We must be prudent and realistic,” particularly if I-728 is not funded by the state.

— With reporting by Ann Templeton Monin and Richard Walker

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