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School board approves continued study of options program expansion

The Bainbridge Island School District voted unanimously to move forward with a feasibility study to gather more information about expansion of the option multiage proposal for the 2011-12 school year.

The next step is for Associate Supt. Julie Goldsmith to work with Wilkes Principal Sheryl Belt and Commodore Options Principal Catherine Camp, as well as other district personnel, with the goal of preparing a final recommendation to the school board in April or May.

Board president Patty Fielding said they are very enthusiastic about providing a choice that resonates with a lot of people.

"If it's financially feasible and if it's workable and the timing is right, I think what you hear from the board and what you hear from the public is an enthusiastic support (of the program) once we get those thorny issues out of the way," she said.

Those issues identified as "thorny" - the "founding families" clause and the cost of the program - were among the many other subjects debated in the nearly hour and a half discussion the board had on the topic.

The clause would give the seven families that founded the Bainbridge Island Learning Community (BILC), a group of parents who devised the original expansion proposal, guaranteed admittance for one of their children. The program would be for up to 50 students in the first and second grades.

There was agreement by the five board members to remove the clause from the proposal, stating that while they understood it would be a reward for the founding families of the group, they did not feel it was fair to all families that were interested in the new program to have those slots taken away automatically.

School board vice-president Mary Curtis said it was an equity issue.

"For the time that I've been on the school board and for most of the programs I've seen, we've never had that kind of a privileged entrance to a program," she said. "If we move forward with this it has to be something that's available for everyone."

Fielding said the clause did not fit into the district's Vision 2010 and strategic plan.

Board member Mike Spence said he felt the legal ramifications were not something they want to deal with.

"What I would really hate to have happen is to do that and have a disgruntled member of the public challenge it legally," he said. "Even if we win that challenge, just the fact the challenge occurred, to me, it would be an absolute disaster."

On the issue of cost, the board agreed that more information was needed in order for them to justify the need for the program in light of the cuts the district must make.

They wanted Goldsmith to take a deeper look at the startup costs and whether it would really generate revenue or not.

BILC co-founder Rhett Stephens said he was happy the proposal was moving forward but disappointed the "founding families" clause won't be included.

"I don't think that (the equity) was the central issue," he said. "I think the central issue was would maintaining the core group be more likely to make the program succeed. I thought that was a vital piece that was missing.

"Ultimately, if the district is able to create something that makes more options available to 48 kids then that's great," Stephens continued. "At the end of the day, that's a success."

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