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Schools trust plans ambitious drive

Lower class sizes and teacher retention are the goals of an ambitious fund drive planned by the Bainbridge Public Schools Trust.

Organizers hope to raise $1.6 million in private donations this spring, to supplement state and local tax support for the 4,000-student district.

“That is our wish and goal,” said Jeff Vincent, trust board president. “Will we get that this year? I doubt it. But we’re trying to get people to understand the needs that are out there in our schools.

“I think we can put a dent in it, and by raising awareness, hopefully get there.”

The Bainbridge Island School District operates on an annual budget of about $27 million, of which about $20 million last year came from state and federal sources.

The balance is made up through local tax support, and island voters last month overwhelmingly approved a levy that will bring in about $5.5 million per year for the next four years.

Even so, school officials say impending state budget cuts – a probable $450,000 hit to the Bainbridge district next year – will mean staff reductions and larger class sizes. Also, some 200 new students are expected to enter the district over the next two school years, further straining resources.

Class sizes likely will increase by two students per classroom next year in grades 7-12, Bainbridge schools Superintendent Ken Crawford said.

Despite the affluence of the Bainbridge community and consistent support for school levies, the district actually ranks relatively low in per-pupil spending.

Enter the year-old Bainbridge Public Schools Trust. According to literature to be distributed in an all-island mailing this week, the goal is to raise $400 in private support for every one of the district’s 4,000 students – $1.6 million total.

Out of every $400 raised, funds would be allocated as such:

l $250 for lowering class size through the hiring of new classroom teachers;

l $100 for teacher recruitment, training and retention;

l $50 to be plowed back into an endowment, which backers hope to grow to seven figures in the next 5-8 years for a long-term yield.

Organizers and school officials say the trust’s drive is supplemental to the work of the Bainbridge Education Support Team, which for years has raised funds for classroom activities and “mini-grants” for materials.

Vincent said that while the island has grown an excellent public school system over the years, future funding problems could change that.

Many of the district’s longtime teachers are nearing retirement age, he said, and those entering the vocation often find the community too expensive to live in.

Increasing class sizes could drive more students to private schools, he added, compounding funding problems as the district loses support from the state.

“We on the island need to stand up and take responsibility for the (funding) issue, and not wait for Olympia to solve the problem,” Vincent said. “We don’t think it’s going to be solved there.”

The trust’s first effort, a “founder’s drive” last fall, raised $227,000. Most of that has been has already been awarded to the district for the purchase of computers, science supplies and other resource materials.

“I think we all have to applaud having a community group that is (this) ambitious, and driven to bring support into our schools,” Crawford said.

As part of the drive, a community forum on school funding is slated for 7 p.m. March 18 at Bainbridge High School. Information: 855-0530 or 842-4714.

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