2008-11-22 / News

School board rejects proposal for soccer team

By Charles Prince

MILLERSPORT - After months of debate, Walnut Township Schools Board of Education members rejected a proposal to establish a co-ed soccer program. The vote Tuesday night was 4-1, with Vince Popo casting the only "yes" vote. His motion to approve the program nearly died for lack of a second, until President David Brookover seconded it so the issue could go to a vote.

Comments were limited Tuesday night. "My concern is about having enough kids," Superintendent Ron Thornton said. "Our current coaches are struggling to find kids for our fall programs."

Thornton added that enrollment projections are heading down, not up. "It may be the survival of the fittest," he said. Football could shut down if there aren't enough players.

Soccer proponents and opponents were present for the vote, but neither side got an opportunity to comment. Dr. Glen Keller presented the case for soccer at the October board meeting. He listed four primary reasons: • More kids can be involved; • Relatively low cost; • Size of the student is not so important; and • Soccer is popular worldwide.

Keller added that 17 students are currently playing on a club soccer team now. Parents would fund the school program for the first three years, including the estimated $6,000 in start-up costs.

"I'm not against soccer," Thornton said at the October meeting. He then noted that the baseball team didn't have enough players and the boys cross country team needed more athletes. "My concern is long-term," Thornton said. "We have lost 10 percent of our student population over the last six years." The issue isn't money, Thornton said, but participation. "Down the road, are we going to have enough kids to support another program?" he asked.

Athletic Director Scott Pohlman said a survey of athletic directors at other small schools found that soccer didn't affect football participation, but had some impact on volleyball and cross country. "I don't want to water down our sports programs," he said. "We're losing kids because we are not competitive."

In other business Tuesday night, board members unanimously agreed to allow Thornton, with the assistance of Schorr Architects, to seek competitive bids for an eight lane, all-weather track. "We have an idea what it might cost," Thornton reported. "The ideal time to do any bidding for summer projects is the winter."

The cost of the track materials is closely linked to oil prices. Thornton believes the recent crash in oil prices could provide a relatively short-term opportunity to get the track built. "I think it is worth the money for the bid to see if we can afford it," he said. If his estimates are borne out by actual bids, Thornton believes the new track can be funded with the existing Certificate of Participation bond revenue. Walnut Township sold about $3 million in COP bonds which have already funded major improvements, including new roofs on both schools and paving the high school parking lot. The bonds are being repaid out of existing general revenue funds rather than asking voters to approve a specific bond levy.

If the bids are too high, they can be rejected, Thornton said. He hopes to get a bid out early next year. A new track could be ready by mid-August.

Elementary school principal Cheryl Thomson had some good news on the Grade 3 Reading Achievement Test results. Last year, 68 percent of the district's third graders scored proficient or above. This year 85 percent were rated proficient or above. Thirtysix percent achieved the highest rating - advanced - this year, compared to the state average of 25 percent. Twenty-two percent rated accelerated; the same as the state average. Twenty-seven percent scored proficient, compared to the state average of 14 percent. Eleven percent were ranked basic, compared to the 16 percent state average. Just four percent, which represents just a student or two at Millersport, were ranked limited, compared to 24 percent statewide. Millersport third graders exceeded the statewide average score of 407 with a 418 average.

Treasurer/CFO Kirk Grandy presented the district's five year financial forecast. Expenditures are forecasted to exceed revenues for the each of the five years. However, fiscal year end cash balances are projected at $2.72 million on 6/30/09, $2.1 million on 6/30/10, $1.0 million on 6/30/11, a negative $0.4 million on 6/30/12 and a negative $2.5 million on 6/30/13. Grandy's projections don't include the renewal of district's two small emergency levies. One, which will be collected through 2009, brings in $258,000 a year. Its renewal appears to have fallen a few votes short on November 4. Provisional ballots and some absentee votes aren't in the total yet, but Thornton doubts the district will pick up the 32 "yes" votes it needs when the totals are certified on Nov. 25. The second emergency levy brings in $250,000 a year and will be collected through 2011.

If both levies are renewed, the cash balance deficit changes to a positive $.3 million on 6/30/12 and cuts the 6/20/13 deficit to $1.3 million. "It is really crucial that we get these emergencies renewed," Grandy told board members. School districts are not permitted to have negative cash balances, so either expenditures will have to be cut in 2012 and 2013 or income increased.

If the levy doesn't pick up enough votes when the results are certified, board members have a tough decision, Thornton said. The cost to the district to put renewal on the May ballot will be at least $22,000 and could run as high as $31,000 if there aren't other issues on the ballot. Waiting until next November will significantly cut the district's election expenses, but that's the final opportunity to get it renewed without a gap in collection. Thornton encouraged board members to make a decision next month on how to proceed.

Board members unanimously approved the following supplemental contracts:

• Kevin Keener as JH boys basketball coach and JH track coach;

• Ian Howard as JH girls basketball coach;

• Bob Weldon as assistant varsity boys basketball coach;

• James Shover as JH boys basketball coach;

• Adam Booze as assistant varsity baseball coach; and

• Randy Willis as JH track coach.

A supplemental contract for Chad Dupler, as assistant varsity girls basketball coach, was considered separately at Brookover's request. He expressed concern about Dupler's abrupt resignation two days before the season started last year. "It is very difficult to find people to coach at Millersport," Thornton said. There isn't a backup if Dupler is turned down. Robert Slater II praised Dupler and moved to approve his appointment. The vote was 4-1 with Brookover voting "no."

Three volunteer coaches were also recognized for their service:

• Jay Zollinger - boys basketball;

• James "Ethan" Rose - JH boys basketball; and

• Rob Wiseman - strength and conditioning coach.

Thornton told board members that the district has a "dire need" for storage space that is prompting a cleanup of closets and storage areas. He said a wide range of items will be offered for sale. None of them meet the criteria to be sold by bid so they will be listed on the district's website at www. walnuttsd.org.

Board members pushed back next month's board meeting one week to 7 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 15 in the elementary school library.

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