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Proposal outlines 'zero-cost' program

The dean of students at St. Helens Middle School presented a plan to school board members Wednesday, Oct. 9, that could bring back a limited middle school athletics program as soon as next month.

Mark Janke, supported by board member Jeff Howell, who has advocated for the return of middle school athletics to the St. Helens School District, said district expenses associated with resurrecting the program would roughly equal the revenue he believes it would generate.

Sports at St. Helens Middle were discontinued as a cost-savings mechanism in 2011. Addressing the board at Wednesday’s meeting, St. Helens Sports Boosters Club member Rich Bailey said it is time for that “experiment” to end.

According to Janke, middle school sports could be phased in starting Nov. 1 at a cost to the district of $23,132, not including pay for substitute teachers to occasionally fill in for teachers with coaching obligations. If the district charges $100 per student as a user fee and $3 as a gate fee for games and meets, he estimates the program would bring in $25,945 in revenue, effectively balancing out the operating costs.

“The sports would be funded by user fees,” Janke said.

The program envisioned by Janke would not include middle school football. Janke said in addition to health and safety concerns, the costs of having that sport at the school would be too high. Volleyball would also be excluded for this school year under his proposal.

Janke’s presentation came after public testimony on the subject.

Bert Mueller, president of the Sports Boosters, said there are “a lot of benefits” to student sports.

“The big one is they have to meet behavioral and academic standards,” Mueller said. “There are always students who perform better because they want to continue to participate in sports. And they keep their noses clean, for example, and they bring up their grades. This is really important to some kids.”

Mueller and others also said sports keep children active and healthy.

McBride Elementary School teacher Michelle Tullock said that while she is not opposed to a “self-supporting” athletics program, she wants to see similar passion for improving classroom learning.

“We don’t seem to have ‘academic boosters’ right now,” Tullock said. She added, “Our first and foremost task is academic growth and achievement. That is what’s going to make a difference for the future of our kids.”

Board members were receptive to Janke’s presentation. Howell successfully moved to place middle school athletics on the agenda for the board’s next meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 23, as an action item, although board Chairman Marshall Porter said it will not necessarily be voted on then.

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