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North Kitsap school board: Pool is just one of many issues

POULSBO — The North Kitsap School District board of directors needed to understand the budget to determine their questions before meeting with the Save Our Pool (SOP) organizers, say the board president and vice president.

And the pool must be looked at in context with everything else the board is responsible for.

The board’s standpoint is the pool subsidy of $350,000 is approximately .5 percent of the total budget and the board is charged with managing an entire district, not just the pool.

To complicate matters, during the budgeting process the board hired a new superintendent, reviewed a complex budget and considered cuts from personnel to nearly every program.

These things take time, which is why President Melanie Mohler said a joint NKSD and SOP meeting didn’t happen right away.

“We needed time to look at it and study it to determine what our questions were,” Mohler said. “We can’t just take one issue and focus on that. We need to understand the whole issue before we can look at singular items.”

Mohler added she only received one e-mail requesting a meeting and it was her understanding then-superintendent Gene Medina was regularly meeting with the group to provide feedback to the board.

During the time that passed before the meeting, the board was aware of the community’s pool closure concerns.

Just because a meeting hadn’t occurred the board wasn’t in the dark, Vice President Tom Anderson said. He added not all feedback is supportive of keeping the pool.

“I think we heard loud and clear without any meeting what the concerns were,” he said. “We were well aware there was a lot of community concern about the pool. To be honest, not all we’ve seen or heard is in favor of keeping the pool open.”

Mohler said she’s received e-mails telling her to close the pool.

“There are other sides of the issue,” Anderson said. “The community is not unanimous to keeping the pool open.”

Community comments aside, both Mohler and Anderson said it isn’t their desire to close the pool. They, as much as anybody, would like to keep it open.

However, when asked why a pool blanket — used to conserve heat in the water and save energy costs — has yet to be purchased, the response was a little murky.

Anderson said the blanket was discussed about a year ago and at the time it came down to cost.

“It was just one of those things discussed and it never got to the board level,” Anderson said. “I think the idea of a blanket was it was not going to be very effective because it was going to take a lot of extra work to pull it off.”

As for the present, that remains unanswered.

The board is aware of the utility discrepancy and have asked repetitively for an audit to nail down the pool’s actual utilities. Again the issue of cost becomes a factor, as conducting an audit requires an outlay of cash.

When asked about the approximate $4.5 million of the 2001 bond being used to renovate a pool that might be closed a few years after the fact, both were empathetic to the concern. But also said economic times have changed since the bond’s passage.

Hindsight is 20/20.

“Our hopes would be people would realize there’s a bigger picture of supporting our kids,” Mohler said. “The district at the time was very responsible financially with the bond money for the pool. And the economic time is very different now than seven years ago. Just think of your home budget ... gas, energy ... and multiply that for a school district with a fleet of buses and buildings.”

The board’s also been accused of already making up its mind about the pool. Both Mohler and Anderson are adamant that’s not true.

“If I’d already made up my mind I wouldn’t be losing sleep the last two months, trust me,” Mohler said. “We never make up our mind ahead of time.”

Although Mohler and Anderson don’t speak for the board as a whole, they said they’d consider naming rights as long as it followed the law and are open to keeping the pool open quarter by quarter.

Earlier in the year, the board was challenged to visit the pool and observe. Both Mohler and Anderson said they’ve acquiesced that request and school board member Dan Delaney regularly swims at the pool.

They agree a parks and recreation metropolitan taxing district is the long-term solution, but any solution must be an entire community effort. They said subsiding the pool isn’t the sole responsibility of the district, but for the time being they took it on.

“I don’t think any district should be in the business of subsiding a pool, but we are and we took it on,” Mohler said. “Our business is to educate the children for the community.”

The board postponed a budget vote until their Aug. 28 meeting to give SOP more time to raise money.

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