Sports

Oak Harbor school board seeks input to funding activities

The Oak Harbor School Board, in conjunction with its regular meetings, is holding a series of public forums to discuss different levy topics; the Dec. 12 meeting will focus on athletics and other co-curricular activities.

Superintendent Rick Schulte said the district would like to hear the public’s ideas about activities and how to fund them, and whether some of that funding should be requested in the next maintenance and operations levy slated for February 2013.

The state funds “basic education,” and activities do not stand under that umbrella; therefore, the district must provide the funding.

Associated Student Body funds help pay for equipment and officials, and the district handles salaries, advisors’ stipends and transportation.

Activities include middle and high school athletics, band, drama, show choir, debate and more.

With additional cuts looming from the state and impact aid shrinking, the district will need to look to other sources for funding activities.

Schulte said, “If the state doesn’t pay, then where does the money come from?”  One solution would be through a levy.

Schulte stressed that barring something “catastrophic,” completely dropping athletics (such as in 1975) is not an option. He said it will not be a “pass the levy or we will cut all activities” ultimatum. The board wants input on how to continue to fund activities at its current level.

With the inevitable cuts coming from the state, the levy is one avenue to fund activities. The state cuts, however, mean activities “won’t go unscathed,” Schulte said.

Studies have shown, according to Schulte, that students involved in activities have better grades, better attendance and less discipline issues.

However, less funding means some trimming and the district would also like pubic feedback on how and what to cut if it becomes necessary.

Some cuts have already been made. Several high school and middle school non-varsity teams and coaching positions have been eliminated.

Schulte said Oak Harbor currently receives $762 per student in levy and state equalization money. The state, because of its own budget crunch, is considering dropping equalization money.

Burlington-Edison, Coupeville, South Whidbey, Mount Vernon and Anacortes all generate over $2,000 per student through levies.

With impact aid, which is also dwindling, the Oak Harbor total jumps to $1,622.

Other military communities, like Medical Lake, Central Kitsap and Clover Park, receive between $2,399 to $3,492 per student.

If Oak Harbor had the same resources as Anacortes, it would mean an additional $5.3 million to the district budget; if the same as Clover Park, it would be $9.9 million.

Activities cost the Oak Harbor School District $650,000 per year. If that cost was added to the levy, it would be 15-to-16 cents per $1,000.

School board member Peter Hunt said levy money would add “control and stability” to the funding equation. He added, “Local funding is the only funding we have control over.”

Schulte said if activities were funded by the levy, then other money would be freed up for items such as text books and technology: “A vote for activities would be a vote for academics.”

The community has been especially supportive since 2001, said Schulte, and has helped pass levies and bonds to add programs and facilities.

Hunt said, “The community has taken the initiative in helping and stepping up.”

Schulte said $650,000 “isn’t a lot of money in context to a $48 million budget,” but activities need “sustainable, consistent support.”

Hunt said the board hopes to hear from the community Dec. 12: “If people have specific ideas, we want to hear them. We can come up with solutions together.”

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