Columbia School Board hears comments on swimming program, discusses summer school options

Tuesday, February 15, 2011 | 12:15 a.m. CST; updated 8:57 p.m. CST, Tuesday, February 15, 2011

COLUMBIA — The room was packed with students, parents and coaches — 11 of whom voiced their support for the continued funding of the Columbia Public Schools’ swimming program — during the district's board meeting Monday night.

Other funding issues were discussed at the meeting, including the possible elimination of state funding for the summer school program. Chief Academic Officer Sally Beth Lyon presented the most important components of the program.

At the school district's finance committee meeting Feb. 7, Superintendent Chris Belcher proposed potentially eliminating the high school swim program. Many of the speakers who defended the swim program at Monday's meeting said that swimming benefits students by teaching them teamwork, time management and confidence.

Students also stressed the support they know they have from the district's other high school.

Jenahlyn Felten, a junior at Hickman, has been swimming on the high school team for three years. She said because the two high schools, Rock Bridge and Hickman, are both coached by John Hamilton, the common rivalry is left behind.

“There are no divisions, none of the rivalry that the other sports have,” Felten explained.

Some parents, including mother of eight Lisa Rhodenbaugh, said getting involved was really important for her kids because the family recently moved to the area. She added that swimming gave them one such opportunity.

“It is about what you get out of your high school experience,” Rhodenbaugh said.

Belcher responded to the concerns by suggesting there might be some value in decreasing athletic funding by 5 percent all around instead of cutting the swimming program completely. By cutting swimming, the district would save about $40,000 overall. If it decreased the athletic funding all around, about $18,000 per high school would be saved.

The swim funding will be discussed more extensively at later meetings.

Also at Monday's meeting, the board heard a presentation that proposed fewer students participate in summer school programs if state funding is eliminated.

Lyon outlined which parts of the summer school program were necessary for the district. The three targeted areas were strategic programs, the high school credit program and the kindergarten to third grade program.

If the district moves forward with just the proposed programs for summer 2011, about 3,430 students would participate in summer school. There were 6,929 participants during summer 2010.

Most summer students would be invited. This would target children who are not at reading level and could most benefit from the program.

Lyon also proposed a fee-based option for the program — with state funding, the program is free. Although this option is feasible, several board members were concerned about the effect this would have on lower-income families and that it would make it difficult to close the achievement gap.

Belcher said the options would be discussed more at upcoming meetings, and parents would soon receive a letter explaining the summer school situation.

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