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Oak Harbor high school swim team stays afloat, for now

Oak Harbor High School students David Kusnick, Brett Vagt, Matt Reith, Jacob Jepsen, Jarik Bainco, Josh Jepsen, John Kaltenbach and Logan Faught show their support for the swim team by holding up “Save OHHS Swimming” signs during the discussion Monday. - Katie McVicker/Whidbey News-Times
Oak Harbor High School students David Kusnick, Brett Vagt, Matt Reith, Jacob Jepsen, Jarik Bainco, Josh Jepsen, John Kaltenbach and Logan Faught show their support for the swim team by holding up “Save OHHS Swimming” signs during the discussion Monday.
— image credit: Katie McVicker/Whidbey News-Times

Oak Harbor School District board member Peter Hunt made a promise to the community Monday that the Oak Harbor High School swim team will stay afloat for at least one more year, but the public will have to wait to get that announcement in writing.

Dozens of high school swimmers and their parents filed into the district office Monday evening equipped with “Save OHHS Swimming” signs and determined to give the Oak Harbor school board a piece of their minds.

The problem was, only two board members could make it to the scheduled meeting, so official action on the swim team issue could not be taken.

Instead, Hunt led a discussion with the parents explaining the school district’s position on the issue and the rough waters that the team will face again in 2012-2013.

“We think that we can work something out so that we won’t have the swim program going out in its entirety at least for this coming year,” Hunt said. “With some changes and possibly some reduction in the number of students who may be able to participate, we will be able to keep the program running.”

But despite Hunt’s relatively good news regarding next year, the crowd seemed far from satisfied with the situation.

Superintendent Rick Schulte, high school Principal Dwight Lundstrom and Athletic Director Nicki Luper sent out a memo to the board late last week recommending that the district not approve the school’s pool contract with the North Whidey Park and Recreation District and that the team be cut altogether. The memo cited safety concerns and the fact that pool officials didn’t honor the district’s request for more time and space in the pool during certain practice slots. Additionally, Schulte wrote that the North Whidbey Aquatic Club could meet the needs of students who wanted to remain in competitive swimming.

However, when Hunt described the reasons the district was considering cutting the team, he stressed budget cuts and the lack of future funding.

The parents made it clear that they didn’t understand what the real reason was for the district to place swimming on the chopping block, since school officials had cited so many varying motivations.

“We’ve all been shot at so we all assume we need to save ourselves,” parents Lynne Vagt said. “My question is, why are we being shot at?”

Vagt prepared a six-page note to the board in which she highlighted what she believed to be “logical fallacies” with the superintendent’s statements on the issue.

“It’s become like smoke and mirrors to us parents, and it leaves us feeling like people are being very disingenuous,” parent Steven Hoffmire said. “... There’s so much that when we read this stuff it’s like you’re going around and around and around. Is it lane space or money?”

Hunt said that he’s aware that the complex details of the issue have gotten out of control, but he stressed that the district is trying to do what’s in the students’ best interest.

Many of the parents in the audience said that if money was an issue, that they would happily fundraise to cover the sport’s cost for 2012-2013 and beyond, but the board members said they couldn’t yet discuss what the situation would be that far in advance.

“If you need the money, we can raise the money. You just have to give us the opportunity to raise it,” parent Patricia Morris said.

Schulte chose not to comment during the discussion last night and the other board member in attendance, Gary Wallin, offered few words.

The discussion ended with Hunt reaffirming that the team would be intact next year and advising the parents to form a group to communicate with the school board regarding future and present concerns. Hunt said official action on the pool contract should be taken by the end of the month.

 

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