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School sports saved: Voters approve Island Rec levy, funding for school sports

The Island Rec levy includes funding for school sports. Had the levy failed, school sports would have ceased to exist absent fund-raising by the community.  - Scott Rasmussen
The Island Rec levy includes funding for school sports. Had the levy failed, school sports would have ceased to exist absent fund-raising by the community.
— image credit: Scott Rasmussen

At first glance, the Island Rec levy on today's ballot seemed an easy sell:

A renewal of 10 cents per $1,000 of assessed property valuation would keep Island Rec’s stable of youth and adult programs going for another six years. An additional 7 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation would provide a stable source of funding for school sports programs for six years.

Meanwhile, a school bond measure of 60 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation expires at year end. So even if voters approved the Island Rec levy, their property tax bill will decrease 43 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation – for most property owners, a savings of about $300 a year.

Voters agreed. As of 8:16 p.m., the levy received 1,748 votes (62.99 percent) in favor, 1,027 (37.01 percent) opposed.

Here’s what property owners' annual contribution to Island Rec and school sports will be.

— $300,000 home: $51.
— $400,000 home: $68.
— $500,000 home: $85.
— $600,000 home: $102.
— $1 million home: $170.

Early, supporters were optimistic that the levy would be approved, at least because of all that was at stake: All of Island Rec's programs, as well as school sports, which are considered non-essential educational programs and were taken out of the school district's budget to save essential programs.

Island Rec's contract with the school district to be the funding vehicle for school sports, which will continue to be operated by the district, is considered unique.

"The reality is, the Island Rec levy must pass," said Brent Snow, who ran unopposed for a position on the school board. "The alternative is not a very good one."

Had the levy failed to get the required 60 percent voter approval, Snow said, "We'll have to work on fund-raising and get it back on the ballot. But I don't think there's any conceivable way it will fail."

Early on, proponents weren't taking chances. The levy request was on the same ballot as the county’s proposed property tax increase to pay for some essential programs. And there was fear of taxpayer fatigue: A state initiative sponsored by Tim Eyman would, if approved, limit growth of state, county and city revenue to annual inflation and population growth.

Matthew Bishop, a CPA who authored the ballot statement against the Island Rec levy, wrote, “This levy is really about diverting money from the school budget that funds sports programs so they can preserve teaching and staff positions. The school district is receiving the maximum allowable taxes under state law. They want more money than the law allows, so they are now asking Island Rec to finance this levy.”

Bishop wrote that the school board is “circumventing the law” by contracting with Island Rec to fund school sports, although the precedent-setting partnership was determined by Island Rec’s attorney to be lawful (the school district can collect levies for capital improvements, maintenance and operations, but not school sports).

And because of enrollment declines and less revenue from the state, the school district cut $1 million in expenses this school year, including the sports program.

“The schools should fund their own sports programs ... Island Rec should not be in the business of school funding,” Bishop said.

But proponents say the Island Rec levy is a critical lifeline for programs devoted to health, fitness and fair play. And with the school bond measure expiring, the investment isn’t painful.

“This $.17 request renews Island Rec ($.10) and sustains school sports ($.07). You will still pay significantly lower taxes than you did last year for Island Rec and schools, because collection of the $.60 school construction bond ends this year,” proponents Rod Turnbull, Tori Zehner and Snow wrote in the ballot argument in favor of the levy.

Turnbull is the school district’s athletic director, Zehner’s husband is an Island Rec commissioner.

“Island Rec provides over 1,500 hours of programs and direct support to more than 8,000 youth and adult participants each year. These include: swimming and sailing lessons, Camp Eagle Rock, softball, basketball, badminton, soccer, volleyball, ping-pong, archery, Summer Concerts on the Lawn, the 8.8k Loop Run, the skate and dog parks, and much more.”

The proponents wrote that the additional 7-cents-per-$1,000 would provide steady, predictable funding for school sports.

“Participation in athletics increases GPAs and fosters better attendance in school,” they wrote. “Six out of ten high school teens participate in one or more school sports. All eligible high school age kids (public, private and home-schooled) may participate in: Tennis, Volleyball, Soccer, Football, Cheerleading, Basketball, Wrestling, Golf, Track, Baseball, Softball, and Middle School Volleyball and Track.”

Without the funding, there would be no school sports. Teams obtaining private funding would be considered club teams, like the San Juan Dragons lacrosse team, and would be excluded from competition in the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association.

Under the agreement between the school district and Island Rec, the district will continue to manage school sports, Island Rec director Sally Thomsen said in an earlier interview. Island Rec will be the funding mechanism only; the district would submit an annual sports budget to Island Rec, and the bills would be paid after property tax revenue is received in April and October. The school sports program budget is $240,000.

Because of increasing property values, the 10-cent renewal for Island Rec is expected to generate an additional $110,000 in revenue, Thomsen said. She said the additional money will shore up recreation programs that lost funding from the county and bolster others. One big-ticket item: $50,000 for a playground at the Carter Avenue sports fields. Others: $18,000 for Camp Eagle Rock; $15,000 to cover new fees imposed by the county auditor, and develop a registration process that will allow for payment by credit card and on-line registration; $11,300 to build a maintenance and operation reserve and cover increase in annual operating expenses; $6,200 for increased maintenance of the San Juan Island Skatepark, The Family Park and Eddie and Friends Dog Park; $5,500 to expand Open Gym, Roller Hockey and Family Open Skate seasons; and $4,000 for the RECX Teen Summer program.

Island Rec’s budget is about $440,000; $228,000 comes from tax dollars and the rest comes from grants, sponsorships and user fees.

Island Rec’s two full-time employees annually coordinate more than 1,600 hours of recreation programs and oversee all park operations and maintenance. An average of 32 part-time and seasonal employees are hired annually.

Besides its year-round fitness and recreation programs for all ages, Island Rec manages Eddie and Friends Dog Park, the Family Park and the Skatepark. It operates and funds the San Juan Island Trails Committee.

Thomsen said all islanders benefit from the programs that Island Rec – and school sports – offer.

“Everyone benefits living in a community with a strong Parks and Recreation program,” she said. “Island Rec provides the opportunities for people of all ages to be more physically and socially active and to make positive uses of free time … Island Rec fosters a sense of community bringing together islanders of all walks of life.”

Community Events, April 2014

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