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Wilkes Options Program not an option next year

The proposed Wilkes Options Program, which has garnered considerable debate since its introduction, is being put on hold.

At the last Bainbridge Island School District board meeting, board members unanimously agreed with Assoc. Supt. Julie Goldsmith’s recommendation that the implementation of the new options program be postponed until the 2012-2013 school year.

Goldsmith’s recommendation is based on several factors, with the main one being the lack of space available at Wilkes Elementary and the funds needed to start the program at Commodore Options School.

The plan was to keep two portables at the elementary school for classroom use, but the district’s Capital Projects Department recommended the portables be removed due to the construction at Wilkes that will start in June.

Goldsmith said there is space available at Commodore, but the costs incurred would be too much.

The biggest cost is the need to hire one or two more teachers at a cost of $82,000 to $164,000 if the Wilkes option program was created. Goldsmith said it would also cost $25,000 for a 0.3 FTE specialist – either a music, P.E. or an art teacher – to cover planning time for the two classrooms. A 0.12 FTE counselor would need to be added at a cost of $10,200.

Due to the special education program being overloaded, there would be an additional cost of $32,000 for more staffing or a staff transfer based on the assumption that the enrollment into the program would be at the district average of 12.7 percent for special education. There would also be additional staff costs for travel time, expenses, planning time and training.

Another conflict, Goldsmith said, was the amount of interest in the new options program. Requests were made by 217 parents for either Wilkes or Ordway with 28 requesting both programs. Ninety-six students applied with 62 registering for the first/second grade option and 34 for the third/fourth grade option.

But of the 24 that were selected for the first/second grade option, only three students  chosen through the lottery draw  were currently in private schools.

Seven of the 24 that were selected for the third/fourth grade program were from private schools. Four

withdrew due to early deadlines set by the private school they had applied to – another problem considering families had to make a commitment to an options program that was not a sure thing.

“They’re (the private schools) are asking for a commitment and if you don’t commit, you lose your slot,” Goldsmith said. “That’s a very difficult thing for us to deal with.”

Out of the seven families that founded the Bainbridge Island Learning Committee, a parent organization dedicated to expanding or creating a new options program, only one family was selected.

Those six students would have brought in $31,200 in basic education allocation from the state.

Goldsmith said they had enough families who accepted a spot in the first/second grade option to create one, but those who accepted a spot in the third/fourth grade option were mainly boys, which would create a gender imbalance.

Goldsmith said they are planning to create a district committee to continue work on the options program. The district will continue to focus on how and where the program will work and recommend that the process be moved up earlier in the year to be in alignment with the private schools.

Rhett Stephens, one of the founders of the BILC, said he was disappointed with the decision.

“It’s very frustrating to have gotten so far and have it postponed,” he said.

Stephens said he was aware of the space issues but was not aware of the costs for hiring new teachers.

He said he was interested to hear about the registration numbers and felt it was not a matter of if, but when a new options program will be established.

“The district knows the need is there,” he said.

Stephens said the BILC is refocusing its strategy and working on several other ideas, including a home school co-operative and a “green” school, which focuses on alternative education ideas.

“What we’re trying to do is turn BILC into an organization for options,” he said.

 

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