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New high school, early release are next year’s issues

South Kitsap residents Janice and Dennis Haines have long since seen their kids grow up and graduate from high school, but the local business owners still care deeply about what happens at area schools.

“These kids are going to be governing us one day,” Dennis Haines said. “You’ve got to get the children educated.”

Getting the kids educated — and making sure parents and community members stay as involved as the Haines — was the primary focus of South Kitsap School District Superintendent Bev Cheney during her final “Coffee with the Superintendent” event, held early Wednesday.

Cheney has hosted the coffee each month during the school year to listen to and share ideas with parents or anyone who has questions about facilities, policies or other issues concerning the district.

The Haines’ primary questions, like so many parents, seemed to center on how more people in the community could get behind schools. Without saying as much, Cheney suggested they attend a special school board meeting on June 12 during which a 43-member advisory committee is expected to make recommendations on a multi-million dollar bond for the district to pay for a new high school.

“In the five years I’ve been here, we’ve had to reduce the budget every year as the state has taken more money from us,” Cheney said. “We’ve had to use levy funds to maintain programs and prevent class sizes from getting any bigger.”

District officials are gun-shy about bonds or levies, as they’ve had two fail back-to-back in 2000. They finally got one passed in 2001, and passed another $44 million maintenance and operations levy in 2005.

Cheney said her goal next year would be to improve communication between the school district and community members — including those who may not have children but whose votes would be essential to passing a levy.

While Cheney acknowledged the difficulty of impressing upon voters the need to have more money, district Community Relations Director Aimee Warthen cited an April survey that showed 68 percent of community members asked supported the idea.

“Most people don’t have a good idea of the condition of our facilities,” Wharthen said. “The community wants to see line-by-line what we’re planning on spending our money on. We’ll have to do more to communicate that.”

South Kitsap High is the largest three-year high school in the state. Officials want to make the school a 9-12 high school — something current space wouldn’t allow for.

Cheney said budget constraints also have prompted the district to consider an early release program next year, releasing students 90 minutes early.

She reiterated the need to look more closely at what funding is available to support such a program.

“With our kids out there, we’ll have to work at the school level to ensure the community knows what our kids are doing” with the rest of the time, Cheney said.

With Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) scores due out soon and another school year winding down in the next three weeks, Cheney commended the work teachers and school volunteers have done this year to improve student learning.

Cheney hopes to take that to another level next year.

The superintendent plans to launch a new program in August that — through business partnerships — would create a link to future jobs by exposing staff, parents and students to speakers whose expertise helps create an awareness of needs in the changing world.

“Students don’t realize how different the world is now. They have to be able to compete, not just on a local level but out in the world,” Cheney said. “Our kids need to be able to have skills to create their own jobs and be successful.”

Meanwhile, parents like the Haines hope they can do their part to reach out to others in the community and raise a greater awareness of schools’ needs and goals in their own back yard.

“Most people aren’t aware of the cost of educating a child. They’re actually paying off that debt long after their children have grown up,” Janice Haines said. “We’ll vote. We’ve voted in every (levy) election. It’s important to support our kids.”

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