July 18, 2009 in Washington Voices

Sports travel cut leaves gaps

CV’s savings may not reach goal, and other districts scramble for middle school games
By The Spokesman-Review

Central Valley’s decision this week to eliminate out-of-district competition for middle school sports to save an estimated $14,000 in transportation costs may or may not actually save that much money.

The $14,000 figure is how much the district spent in the 2008-’09 school year for out-of-district travel, said Superintendent Ben Small. The amount includes gas and bus driver wages since drivers to games in other districts get paid to sit and wait for the game to be over to drive students home.

Drivers transporting students to in-district games do not sit and wait, so the district will save money on staff time. But the same number of games will be played so transportation costs for those replacement games would seem to indicate that the district will save less than the estimated $14,000.

“I can’t say that it’s going to be exactly $14,000,” said Small. “What we’ll be doing is to minimize that transportation cost. If we can double up our buses we believe we can save that money. We may have one bus carry two teams.”

A look at a map reveals that some Central Valley middle schools are actually closer to out-of-district schools than they are to other Central Valley schools. For example, North Pines Middle School is only 2.9 miles from Centennial Middle School in West Valley while a trip from North Pines to Greenacres Middle School, also in CV, is 3.8 miles.

The trip from Greenacres to East Valley Middle School is 4.5 miles while traveling from Greenacres to Horizon Middle School, also in CV, is 5.7 miles. Bowdish Middle School in Central Valley is closer to Centennial than it is to Greenacres by 1.5 miles.

Freeman Middle School and Mountain View Middle School in Newman Lake are the farthest away geographically, but the schools take turns traveling back and forth. If Greenacres was scheduled to play Freeman at home, Central Valley would save no money by not playing Freeman.

Small said he has asked neighboring superintendents to send him information about how their schedules have been impacted and indicates that exceptions may be made to the new rule. “We would work to make exceptions where we believe it will make sense for other schools,” he said. “I would never say we would never play another game with another school.”

In the end, Small said, the district will be trying to minimize transportation costs in any way possible and in some situations it might make sense to play an out-of-district school. Only time will tell if that effort will be enough to save $14,000. “We’ll know more when we’re actually in the middle of it.”

Meanwhile, the board’s decision sent shock waves through surrounding school districts as they struggle to figure out how to maintain games for their own students.

Central Valley schools compete in the Spokane Valley Middle School League with East Valley, West Valley and Freeman school districts. With the withdrawal of Central Valley’s five middle schools, the league is left only with one middle school in West Valley, one in Freeman and two in East Valley.

Still, the neighboring superintendents knew something was in the wind. Small asked for a meeting with the three other superintendents in June, said East Valley Superintendent John Glenewinkel. “We didn’t know it was coming, but we certainly knew it was a possibility,” he said. “We understand the tough choices that folks have to make.”

Both Glenewinkel and West Valley Superintendent Polly Crowley said that they would somehow make sure their students have a full schedule of games. Since other local school districts already have their fall sports schedules set, however, that will likely mean just adding additional games among themselves to replace the holes in the schedule left by Central Valley’s withdrawal.

“There are certainly other middle school leagues,” Crowley said, though she doubts anything can be done this year on such short notice.

Crowley anticipates having some sort of solution by mid-August.

“We will get our heads together,” said Crowley. “We’ll try to keep it whole for the kids. We’ll figure out a way to make this work.”

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