School district $100,000 short of floating the MSC

POULSBO — A running joke at Thursday night’s North Kitsap School Board meeting was asking each of the many residents who spoke in favor of keeping the Marine Science Center open to classes if they had $100,000 to spare.

Unfortunately for proponents of the center, the joke is no laughing matter.

“Unless someone comes up with $100,000,” said North Kitsap Schools Supt. Gene Medina, “we probably won’t have a program there next year.”

The school district, which must trim its budget by $654,000 next year, also needs to find room for 210 students due to the high school’s change from the block schedule to the six-period day.

The school board has two options: Option “A” calls for renovating the former vocational building, and moving five classroom portables — two doubles and one single — that the district currently has, at a total cost from the district’s general fund of $91,160 over three years. Option “B” uses the former vocational building, three portable classrooms and two classrooms at the Marine Science Center, for a cost of $319,500 over three years.

The result of which is a $228,340 savings for using portables over the MSC, leaving the directors little choice, with budget cuts a priority in the district.

Board Director Dan Delaney felt there was, in fact, no choice at all, stating he was “insulted” administrators would even bring Option “B” to the table.

“I don’t like having an option that’s not really an option,” he said.

A further blow to the center, NKSD Director of Student Support Services Gregg Epperson reported, was that the high school administration and staff — already scrambling to revamp from the block schedule to six-period day — have said they would be hard pressed to deliver a class at the center.

There’s also the issue of time. With 55-minute classes, shuttling students to the MSC for just one class isn’t worthwhile due to shortened instructional time.

Nonetheless, many spoke out at the meeting in favor of the nearly sunken center.

“What we have here is unique,” said North End resident Keith Daniels. “I just feel the program at the Marine Science Center needs to have a future.”

“I got to put away my text books and use my hands,” added NKHS junior Emily Wildung, pleading to the board to find out “if there’s anyway we can keep it.”

“In this area, I don’t see how you can teach science without marine science,” said Kathleen Byrne-Barrantes, an NKSD parent and president of the Liberty Bay Foundation. “A portable won’t do the trick.”

Poulsbo resident Bill Austin, known for his civic leadership on projects in the community, said he just needed time to create a plan that would begin a public-private partnership and that would purchase the MSC from the city. His ideas, he said, could enhance the city, including in the department of marine science education.

“If only the city would listen to me sometimes,” Austin said, evoking laughter from the audience.

However, later in the meeting, Director Delaney said he was “extremely leery” of selling the MSC to private interests, though he reminded those in attendance that the city, and not the district, owns the building.

The City of Poulsbo, with some help from Kitsap County, still has about $245,000 remaining on its bond to pay off on the building.

“Unless we keep that public gem public, we’ll lose it forever,” Delaney said, encouraging those in attendance to “harangue the city council and that mayor” to become proactive in a plan to re-create the center.

A $10,000 feasibility study by Jim Kolb on the future of the center has been dually funded by city and school district.

Though the school board won’t make a final decision on cutting the MSC programming next year until May 12 or later, the plan to bring the additional portables to the high school was approved, albeit by an unconfident vote. Directors Dick Endresen, Ed Strickland and Catherine Ahl voted in favor of the portables while Delaney and Bethany McDonald, long an advocate for MSC education, both abstained.

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