Lack of funding highlighted as barrier to better schools

Lack of money is a barrier to many projects and programs some community members would like to see in South Whidbey schools.

No funding for the arts, more integration of arts into regular classes, more promotion of the programs that are in place and a lack of interest in coaching positions were identified as barriers to having more student achievement and participation during a community forum on education Monday.

The community forum, now in its third year, was held at the South Whidbey High School Commons Monday night. It was a brainstorming session to find ways to improve student achievement in academics, applied learning activities, athletics and the arts.

The event was hosted by Superintendent Bob Brown and was sponsored by the Learning and Community Engagement Program. Participants identified “barriers” to developing programs and activities for South Whidbey students while they sat in small groups, munching on cheese and crackers and cake.

“We’ve created ongoing conversations with the community to look at new ideas and possibilities for South Whidbey schools, and to move forward, “ said Rich Parker, president of the South Whidbey Board of Education.

“Our whole focus is improving student achievement in these four areas; academics, applied learning, athletics and the arts,” Parker said.

The 100 or so participants were given handouts that detailed programs that are in place. The handouts also included ideas from last year’s forum about what parents and other community members would like to see in their schools.

Monday night’s event was an exercise in identifying existing roadblocks to improving student achievement. The school board and administration will now try to implement new policies and procedures that address some of the concerns raised this week.

Beyond concerns over a lack of funding and support for art programs, attendees also raised concerns about shrinking financial support to local youth organizations.

Other barriers were also identified.

“Some other areas identified as being very important included more professional development for teachers and a volunteer coordinator to act as a liaison between organizations and the schools,” said Jamie Boyd.

District officials have worked to build the fund balance in the district’s annual budget, and it is hoped some of that money can go toward extra programs.

“In August we expect to be on target with a fund balance of $750,000,” Brown said. “It was next to nothing when I came in 2004. Now with the support of the South Whidbey community and a respectable fund balance, the district will have some money to do some things.”

Brown said the district is headed in the right direction with the leadership of new superintendent Fred McCarthy and the recent passage of the school levy.

“The board is supportive and working together. They are singing from the same hymn book, maybe not always the same page, but at least it’s the same book,” Brown said.

“I have enjoyed working with the board. They have the will to make these things happen,” he added. “I wish I was going to be here to see all the progress.”

The staff of the Community Engagement Program will compile all the information gathered during Monday’s meeting into a report that will be released in July.

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