School board vets off-Island students

For years, Vashon Island School District has been willing to accept as many off-Island students as it can handle.

On Thursday, the school board will decide whether to continue this practice and whether to include enough space for these students in its next high school bond proposal.

The school board could alter its current stance on admitting the nonresidential students who, according to some, add diversity to the Island's student body, but don't pull in the property tax dollars that Island students do.

Because the students live off-Island, their parents pay property taxes to the communities in which they live, not Vashon: A bond to build a new high school on Vashon won't draw money from these students.

Supporters of the policy, however, say that off-Island students bring a richness of experience and backgrounds to the Island's public school system, pull in approximately $5,500 apiece from the state each year and cost the district little to nothing. They also enable the district to offer more electives and retain more teachers, added board chair Bob Hennessey.

In fact, Vashon's 130 off-Island students mean a net gain of $200,000 for the district, said Superintendent Terry Lindquist — or six full-time teachers. The school district has already sent out pink slips to several Island teachers in an effort to close its anticipated $1 million budget gap.

The school district's bond proposal that failed March 10 assumed the school district would accept off-Island students in perpetuity; some people may have voted against the proposal for that reason, said school board member Dan Chasan.

"The pro is that you can afford to have more teachers and therefore either more electives or more sections of the classes that you have," Chasan said. "On a year-to-year basis, there aren't a lot of cons, but that still doesn't mean that you should ask the community to spend however many millions of dollars to house kids that don't live here."

But Hennessey said the amount of money it costs to build a high school for 525 students isn't much more than the amount it takes to build a high school for 500.

"The differential is going to be miniscule," he said. "You're talking about two classrooms. That's really nibbling around the edges."

Lindquist noted that students who don't live on Vashon must apply and be accepted to attend school on the Island.

"They bring great diversity to us in terms of experience, ethnicity, thought, and it allows us to offer electives we would not otherwise be able to offer," he said.

Without them, the student body wouldn't "be as robust or diverse," he said

His recommendation to the school board, he said, is to continue accepting off-Island students each year.

Hennessey said continuance of this practice makes good sense.

"To me, it is fairly apparent that reducing our programmatic offerings and reducing our teaching staff ... is not in the interests of the kids that live here or the kids that come here from off-Island," he said. "These are good kids who come from West Seattle and Kitsap, really no different than our kids except that they are bringing diversity that we don't have," he said.

The school board will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 28, in McMurray Middle School.

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