St. Helens Middle School will resurrect its athletics program Nov. 1 with fewer coaches and no scholarships

by: FILE PHOTO - In previous years, St. Helens Middle School allocated 15 percent of student athlete user fees to scholarships for students who couldnt afford the $100 to sign up. This year, to fund the athletics program, the district will provide no student scholarships.After much debate, the St. Helens School District board voted 3-2 to allocate $16,800 out of the district's general fund to bring back middle school sports starting Nov. 1 and lasting for the remainder of the school year.

Mark Janke, dean of students at St. Helens Middle School, initially estimated that district expenses associated with bringing back the sports program would roughly equal the revenue it would generate. But that was only if the St. Helens Teachers Union voted to lower the pay of coaches by $1,000.

Keith Meeuwsen, president of the St. Helens Teachers Union, said 120 teachers recently voted on the issue of lowering coaches' pay by $1,000. Roughly 50 voted yes while about 70 voted against the pay decrease, he said.

“Teachers are concerned,” Meeuwsen said. “They don't have a full calendar, and have large classes. Until these issues are addressed, they are reluctant to bring other things back.”

“I'm extremely disappointed the teachers voted this down. Extremely disappointed,” said school board member Jeff Howell.

The cost associated with bringing middle school sports back Nov. 1 was initially estimated at $23,132 with reductions in coaches' salaries. The program had with an estimated income of $25,945, which would have balanced out operating costs.

Since the teachers union did not approve salary cuts to coaches, the deficit between the program's projected income and projected revenue was estimated at $21,000 without including volleyball and cross country (the middle school season for those sports is nearly through). In order to lower that cost to $16,800, Janine Salisbury, the school district's director of facilities and operations, calculated the costs of a program with no scholarships for student athletes. In the past, 15 percent of the revenue generated by student fees for middle school athletics had been used to provide scholarships to those who couldn't afford to join.

“We've figured out we can cover $15,000 of the deficit from Associated Student Body athletic funds collected before middle school sports were eliminated,” Salisbury said. “That will cover most of the deficit.”

Marshall Porter, chairman of the board, said he still didn't agree with the prospect of spending money from the district’s general fund to bring the program back.

“With the budget crisis, and not having full days, I can't support the program,” he said.

Board member Kellie Smith agreed that class numbers need to be addressed before sports.

Howell disagreed, saying middle school sports is an important draw.

“We talk about losing families and kids from our district,” Howell said. “This is one of the reasons why.”

Gordan Jarman, board vice chairman, said, “If this doesn't go [forward], it'll be a disservice to the kids.”

Outside of health and social benefits, student athletics has proven benefits in the classroom, Jarman added.

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