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School board seeks public input about options for program restoration

If you want to have input into how the Kent School District will spend your tax dollars, now is the time.

The school board has created open forums for public input into what programs to restore over the next several months. The recently passed four-year levy has allowed the board opportunities to restore programs lost during past budget reductions.

Community and staff can provide input at two hearings:

• April 16, 7 to 8:30 p.m., Kent-Meridian High School cafeteria, 10020 SE 256th St.

• April 22, 7 to 8:30 p.m., Kentwood gymnasium, 25800 164th Ave. SE, Covington.

The district has seven programs and a single policy up for discussion. These include adding staff such as librarians, technology specialists and counselors to the tune of $4.43 million. Additional ideas included restoring middle school baseball and fastpitch programs and implementing the Advancement Via Individual Determination program for high schools.

The board also faces a policy decision on whether to drop the district's "pay to play" requirement for high school sports. Opening up athletics to all students would cost $267,000, but it also could improve teams and allow more low-income students to participate.

All said and done, the district could potentially spend $6 million on program restorations out of the potential $8 million it will collect through the levy.

The programs will need to be phased in over several years to avoid eating up all of the levy funds at once, said Richard Stedry, chief business officer for the school district.

According to Stedry, taxpayer-approved additional dollars available for program restorations will be limited to between $3 and $4 million per year.

Chris Loftis, school district spokesman, added:

"It has to be sequenced, not just financially but on a programmatic level as well," he said. "If you reinstate fifth-grade band and strings, do you do that in all 27 schools? Do you do that in only schools that don't have the resources now? Every school has a slightly different configuration."

The board also will be using a survey tool to gather input. The district will distribute an electronic and written survey to various stakeholders in the community — teachers, support staff, parents, students and other groups — so they can rank the potential ideas as well as add their own. The electronic survey will link keywords for ideas and aggregate them to provide the district with a clearer view of what constituents suggest.

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