Off-Island students bring funds to district

Off-Island students add nearly $191,000 to Vashon Island School District’s coffers, enabling the district to offer a richer array of electives at both the middle and high school, Superintendent Terry Lindquist told the school board Thursday.

Lindquist undertook an analysis of the economic impact of off-Island students in an effort to answer what he said has been an ongoing debate on Vashon.

The number of off-Island students has grown significantly in just the last few years, from 44 in the 2003-04 academic year to 130 today, he said. According to his analysis, the current population of off-Island students brings to the district $742,500 in state dollars and costs the district about $450,000 — with a net of $190,600 going to the district, he said.

Those additional funds make a difference, he said, enabling the district to hire additional teachers and offer the popular Exploratory Week at McMurray

“It’s hard for me to see how we could offer the same kind of programs without these off-Island students,” he told the board.

In an interview before the board meeting, Lindquist said the additional students are also not dictating the size of the proposed classroom building the district plans to build should the proposed $75 million bond measure win approval in March.

“I think it’s conceivable we’d be building a couple fewer classrooms” if there were no off-Island kids, he said, but the difference in overall costs for the measure would be very small.

The board, however, needs to annually address the issue of just how many off-Island students it can accommodate, he told the board. Currently, for instance, the district has room for more off-Island students at McMurray but not at the high school. But Lindquist said he questions the “moral” implications of letting off-Island students attend the middle school knowing not all of them would be able to continue on at the high school.

“This is a year-by-year issue that should be on the agenda,” he told the board.

School board chair Bob Hennessey said board members took up the issue at their annual retreat on Saturday and concurred with Lindquist’s recommendation to undertake a yearly look at the issue.

Hennessey added that Lindquist’s analysis underscored what he has already experienced as a director. The district was able to maintain a high school counselor position this academic year, for instance, after it decided to accept another five off-Island students.

“The more people understand how off-Island kids improve the school for all of our kids in terms of the curriculum we can offer and the class sizes we can offer, it will allay some of the fears people might have,” he added.

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