Council nixes conditions to fund counselors

The City Council recalled the five formal demands it sought earlier this month in exchange for fully funding school district counselors. The council decided that a letter of intent from the superintendent to resolve ongoing field access issues would suffice.

Last Monday night, the Council reversed its unanimous Oct. 6 decision and removed the five conditions they had added to an interlocal agreement with the school district to fund youth counselors. According to Deputy Mayor El Jahncke, city and district officials “had some very good discussions” the week after he proposed, and the Council approved, the extra stipulations. Jahncke also said that a letter to the city manager from Superintendent Gary Plano confirmed what had been decided and promised the district would follow through with the city’s requests in a timely manner.

The letter from Plano states that high school fields will remain open and available to the public, and the district scheduler would notify city schedulers when they are closed for maintenance. The letter also said that the high school fields would be scheduled in July in accordance with the state’s Interscholastic Athletic Association rules and procedures.

“The high school athletic director will routinely provide the dates/times to the high school field scheduler to be noted in the [city’s] scheduling system,” Plano wrote to the Council.

The athletic director and Parks and Recreation director will also begin meeting monthly to discuss field, gym and scheduling issues. Plano’s letter assured the Council that the athletic director would attend the community’s Ballfield Users Group meetings as well, “in order to hear concerns and/or address issues related to high school fields and scheduling.”

School Board President Pat Braman said she was pleased that the Council revised the agreement to fund the counselors.

“The good news is that our young people will be the beneficiaries,” Braman said.

Earlier this month, the Council added conditions to its agreement to fund all six non-academic school counselors at the cost of $434,632. As part of five conditions that the Council sought in return for the funding, they asked the district to unlock all high school athletic fields. Locked fields prevent the Parks and Recreation department from making them available for public use when school sports are not playing or practicing. In that earlier meeting, Councilmembers Dan Grausz and Bruce Bassett, who voted in favor of the motion to support youth counselor funding, both expressed dissent during the Council’s deliberations.

“I think we’re using the wrong vehicle for going forward with this,” Grausz said about field issues before the initial vote in early October. “We need to find [an arrangement] that survives beyond the term of this [annual agreement] so we don’t have to revisit this next June. So we get things done in perpetuity.”

During the Oct. 6 meeting, Councilmembers expressed concerns that the district kept Islander Stadium unavailable during vacations, including the summer, preventing permitted club use despite an agreement from 2002 that prohibits such “locked” fields. According to city and district policy, the Parks and Recreation department is allowed to schedule some school fields for the Island’s sports teams or leagues.

The schools were losing money as a result.

E-mails recently obtained from the city showed that the school district had received “significantly” lower revenues in Islander Stadium rental fees from community sports in the summer of 2007 compared to the year prior.

In 2002, the school district agreed that the district would keep the high school stadium open to the public in exchange for $500,000 to help fund its new turf surface.

Former Mayor Alan Merkle said field-access issues between the district and the city date back some time. He recalled working with both former Superintendents Cyndy Simms and her predecessor, Bill Keim, on the matter.

“I’m sure the fine tuning of these schedules has changed because there’s an ever-morphing landscape on the Island of sports organizations,” Merkle said. “It’s usually driven by particular interest groups of one kind or another, who think either the city or school district is mistreating them.”

In the new agreement, the city will pay 100 percent of the costs this school year for the six non-academic counselors who work in the Island’s public schools.

In years past, the district and the city split the costs of the extra counselors, roughly 40 to 60 percent. With the city picking up the full tab, the district will save $183,000 this year. The district will now be able to use the extra money for other educational needs. Islanders had championed the idea to assist the school district when it announced an expected $800,000 in funding cuts. At this point, the agreement must be renewed each year.

The Council had also wanted the district to designate seven carpool parking spots at the high school. Plano’s letter explained that carpools are routinely favored in the student parking allocation process as the demand is far greater than the supply. However, he warned the city of some known risks associated with teenagers carpooling.

“Recent concerns about student carpools have been expressed around traffic statistics showing high accident/death rates for adolescents when more than one teenager is riding in the vehicle,” Plano wrote.

The district will also publish a 2008 update on its Web site to include subject-area class sizes for grades six through 12. The Council had requested that the district publish class sizes online. The district currently posts the average grade-level class sizes for each elementary grade on the Web.

Mayor Jim Pearman said last Monday that the four heads of the city and district — the mayor, city manager, superintendent and Board president — would start meeting monthly.

“It will really work,” the mayor said. “It will be a much better communication system just to know what the other is doing.”

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