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Board OKs budget cuts

Tony Manjarrez worries that the Snoqualmie Valley School District’s plan to convert interscholastic middle school sports to intramural sports will rob students of critical experiences and lessons. He’s worried as a coach, a parent and a teacher.

“To get rid of something that almost every student in the middle school participates in is shocking,” he said at Snoqualmie Middle School, where he teaches social studies and coaches four sports.

“Athletics is the only thing we can hold kids accountable for with their grades,” Manjarrez said.

During a special session on Monday, the school board approved cutting $4.1 million from the 2009-2010 school budget. The district is still figuring out how to implement cuts in two areas – custodians and middle school sports.

Based on public commentary, many residents, including Manjarrez, are confused or concerned about the affects from cuts in these areas.

The district estimates saving $300,000 by making middle school sports into an intramural program. An estimated $457,000 would be saved by cutting eight custodial positions. However, the district would have to hire a supervisor, which would reduce the total savings to $397,000.

The district would go from 24 custodians to 17, with 11 in the schools during the day. The rest would be roving cleaning crews at night.

“When you cut custodians by 30 percent, you have to do something extreme to get the schools to a minimum level of hygiene,” said Ron Ellis, the district’s financial manager.

The district does not know exactly how that would be worked out, though.

“The model isn’t anywhere near done yet,” said Joel Aune, the district’s superintendent.

Several members of the board and the audience expressed frustration with the plan.

When the school board’s president, Marci Busby, proposed saving a custodial position rather than hire a new night supervisor, an audience member said, “Good, use your head.”

The district is also looking at converting the middle schools’ interscholastic sports program into an intramural program.

Sports are “part of our commitment” to students, said Rudy Edwards, school board member.

Another board member, Dan Popp, called on the district to try maintaing the current program and proposed budget cuts by renegotiating contracts with coaches and implementing pay-to-play fees for middle school sports.

Four years ago, pay-to-play fees were introduced at the high school. It is not clear why fees were not implemented across the board at the time.

Students learn valuable lessons on sports fields that they can’t learn in the classroom, said several coaches.

Students learn perseverance, patience, humility, discipline, and how to win and lose with grace, said Jerry Hillburn, who’s been a teacher and coach for over 30 years.

He started out at Mercer Island, which went to intramural sports in 1990.

“The community picked up basketball, football and soccer. The girls’ sports suffered greatly. The community was interested in ‘traditional’ boys’ sports,” Hillburn said in his classroom at Snoqualmie Middle School.

Based on that experience, he has one request for the district, “Please do not waste the money on intramural sports.”

They are “ineffective and glorified baby-sitting,” he said.

The district has not said what an intramural program for the middle schools would look like.

Part of the Highly Capable program for grades 4 through 8 will be cut due to reductions in money for Initiative 728. Currently, there are two sections: a core group of students who meet the basic criteria and a second group of students who show the aptitude to handle the work, but haven’t met the criteria yet. The second section, known as the ‘enrichment phase,’ would be eliminated.

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