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Slicing time

Schools, public must keep open mind

Hood River School District must ask its own $64,000 question: Is it worth cutting six sports in order to save that amount of money?

Word got out last week that the district is looking at cutting out cross country, swimming, golf, tennis, skiing and lacrosse programs in 2003-04, to help meet a projected $2.5 million in budget cuts.

Is such a sliver of $2.5 million worth it? Can other options not be found?

These are valid questions, ones the School Board and the Budget Committee members doubtless have already been asked. The answers aren’t simple. Over the past year the administration has wrung out the cloth in the absence of leadership from the Oregon Legislature when it comes to sustaining and predicting even a vaguely stable stream of school revenue.

But the district must remain open to responses from the public over the proposed $64,000 impact on six athletic programs that benefit an estimated 150 students.

Lacrosse will continue, according to school officials, and youths have other avenues for swimming, skiing, tennis, golf, and competitive running.

Yet it must be considered that even in the “pay to play” era, school sports have a unique value: they provide a grassroots, low-cost opportunity for kids to learn skills and compete with peers.

Which points to two alternatives to consider: expanded intramural programs at the high school and middle schools, and adding Community Education sports and recreation programs geared to 14-18-year-olds, with the district using some of its athletics savings to underwrite tuition.

To use a golf analogy, a player can choose from a variety of woods and irons to correct a slice or work his way up to the next green. What it comes down to is that for the hitting of balls and running of races, mitigations are possible.

However, it is also possible to put too large an emphasis on sports cutbacks when plenty of other reductions that affect instruction are also looming. Interim school superintendent Rick Eggers, who inherited the formidable task of creating a budget proposal under difficult times, has been mum about what those cuts will be, but he has indicated that up to a dozen licensed positions (read: teachers) could be cut.

More will be known when Eggers presents the 2003-04 plan tonight in the 7:30 p.m. board meeting at Mid Valley Elementary School in Odell.

For the sake of sports as well as programs in general, if ever there was a time to plan for large board meeting attendance this would be it. If ever there was a time for school officials and patrons to listen mutually this would be it.

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