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Letter From Dr. McCammon Regarding Athletic Configuration Changes

Dear Fife School District Community,

As I am sure most of you are aware, as it has been posted for quite some time on the district website and presented in the local newspapers on multiple occasions, we have been revisiting and studying our overall secondary athletic configuration for the past several months. After those long months filled with intense debate, the athletic configuration determination process has finally come to an end. At the school board meeting last night, the board voted 5-0 in favor of transferring the athletic eligibility of all 9th graders in the district to the high school. We have officially declared 9-12 status for athletics with the WIAA beginning with the 2012-2013 school year. This means that any 9th grader who wishes to participate in athletics will no longer play for a team at Columbia Junior High, but will instead play all sports at Fife High School in the 2A South Puget Sound League. In some cases, this will add "C" teams to the collection of high school athletic squads to allow for the increase in participants. This decision also includes changes for 7th and 8th graders in the district. Beginning next year, those two grades will join the Plateau League with schools from Enumclaw, White River, and Sumner. The 7th graders will compete in SLMS uniforms while the 8th graders will represent CJHS wearing their colors. Click here for a history of the issue and timeline of the athletic configuration committee's work.

Overall, the conversation concerning the future of the secondary athletic program in the district has turned out to entail a long and emotional journey. It started back in the spring of 2010 with an official request by the high school to examine the configuration. After this request, the school board directed that a process be put into place to generate conversation. As a result, a committee of parents, athletic directors, and administrators was brought together to discuss the issues with the current system and make recommendations to the board regarding the future of athletics in the district. This group created three possible scenarios, held a public forum to present these scenarios to the community, and conducted an advisory vote for the school board. Over the course of the late fall/early winter, the board convened three study sessions to review the work done by the committee. During this time, they asked questions of the principals and discussed the ramifications of each choice. The costs and impact on all three buildings were truly considered at great length.

As mentioned above, there came a point in the process wherein we had to consider the potential costs of moving the 9th graders up to participate at the high school as an option. The board was adamant that they needed assurances that there would not be an unreasonable cost to the district that would impact the classroom and overall student learning. I was probably the loudest voice of concern as I am the one at the end of the day who has to struggle with identifying and dealing with the annual budget cuts. We did sit down with multiple parties and look at the potential financial impact as well as ways in which those costs could be mitigated. We were able to save several thousand dollars in reduced coaching stipends that would simply become a reality if the kids played at the high school. We also experienced savings in multiple areas of the athletics programs and we have already factored that into the budget. The ASB, which is separate from district dollars, will be paying for any new uniforms and that is something that they have paid for in the past on many occasions. At the end of the day the net remaining cost was about $5000, and we agreed to use monies collected from community uses of our fields and facilities that we were putting away as extra dollars to resurface the SLMS field in several years. We will continue to save our allotted goal of dollars to replace the field in several years and are on track to accomplish this goal. This small amount of dollars we are using to implement this change is athletic revenue used for funding our athletics programs and the way that this should be done responsibly. That money is the only district contribution and it will pay for any potential increases in officials costs as more contests are held in the future. It is not money we would have used for any classroom or staffing purposes. The culmination of all this work occurred last night with the final decision.

There is no doubt that this issue has caused a hardship of feelings between some folks at our secondary buildings, some community members and some of our coaches. Many advocated for their buildings and programs intensely, as it should be. At the end of the day we, as a district, are bigger than one decision on where students compete in athletics and we will be fine after we adjust to this change. This entire review and process was handled very well. The board took great care in considering the impact that this change would have on the climate of CJHS, weighed against the need to address issues at SLMS along with the committee recommendation regarding the overall community desire to have student athletes have the opportunity to play 9th grade sports at the high school without causing the students to make increased choices about what sports to play. It was clear that this was the preference of the community at large. The end result of the decision was to increase participation for all kids and to improve overall programs district wide.

I am proud to state that, as a district, we have steadfastly supported our classrooms in all of the millions of dollars of cuts we have had to make over the past decade. We have achieved this while also making zero cuts to academic program, sports, extra-curricular activities, physical education and music and art. This has not been the case in most districts in our region and certainly most have not done it without implementing “pay for play” to reduce athletic costs. I do not know how much longer we can achieve this level of success in protection, but I think that our record speaks for itself. I am proud of our community, our staff and our school board for the fine manner in which the discourse was held, the process was completed and the final decision was made. For myself, I have remained steadfastly neutral in the process as this is a community issue about the philosophy of how we should configure our athletic program, much akin to determining building configurations and passing bonds. My job is to make sure that our kids have a full and robust program, quality uniforms to wear proudly and access to good facilities and leagues as they compete within our school district regardless of the colors that they wear. I did operate as a watchdog to ensure that we did not incur increased costs to our budget in this economic period that would have had any impact on teaching and learning. I also share the concern about the impact that this change will have on CJHS as a school. The staff has worked so successfully in creating an incredible climate at our junior high level. There is no doubt that this change will create a great challenge for the leadership and staff at CJH. I share that concern, but I am equally convinced that our folks will rise to the occasion and to the challenge and that great things will continue to happen for kids as they progress through that great learning center in our district. We were ready to implement the final decision of the school board however it did turn out. We now know that direction. I thank the board, once again, for their voluntary service to our community.

For those of you who would like more information on the process and the fine details, I am copying the original framing of the issue as was posted on the website for the past several weeks, as well as Mr. Short’s verbatim text that he read into the board record last evening. He was the administrator of record that facilitated the process and he did a fine job as always.

The process as shared by Mr. Short to the board:

First I would like to say The Fife School District is very proud of the sports and activities programs we are able to offer our students. These are difficult economic times yet we have not cut programs or instituted play for pay options like many other school districts.

Last year the Fife School Board asked us to revisit of the present athletic configuration. Based upon your request a committee was formed to review the present format and see if it still was in the best interest of all involved to continue with the present athletic configuration. The new committee was made up of building administrators, athletic directors, coaching representatives, community members, and district representatives. The Board asked the committee for a recommendation as to what they believe would be the best athletic configuration moving forward for the future.

The committee started meeting in September and spent hours reviewing the configuration presently in place and the possibilities of other formats. The committee decided to gather information by three sources. 1) group meetings to express individual’s information, 2) the Fife School District website which gave an option for individual input, and 3) a call out on the districts phone system for the opportunity to speak at a district forum. Much information was gathered and the committee met again on December 8 and worked toward a recommendation.

At the December 19 school board meeting the 16 member committee gave you three options to consider.

Again I repeat to you as I did to the committee that our task was to only give a recommendation to the school board. At that time we delivered three potential options.

Option One (Current Programs stay as they are) – 6 Votes
· FHS declares (Stays) as a 10 – 12 school, in the 2A South Puget Sound League
· CJH competes in the Puyallup School District Junior High League
· SLMS competes in the Nisqually 1A League. Where our 7th graders compete against the private school 8th graders (Cascade Christian, Charles Wright, Life Christian, Tacoma Baptist and Showwalter MS of the Tukwila SD)

Option Two – 6 Votes
· FHS Declares 9-12 athletic configuration.
· 9th Graders compete for FHS in the 2A SPSL. They will compete on C-Teams, JV or Varsity
· 7th and 8th graders will compete in the 2A Plateau League wearing their own school uniforms and representing their individual schools

Option Three – 4 Votes
· FHS declares 9 – 12
· 9th grade athletes with exceptional abilities may be able to compete at the junior varsity or varsity levels, based on the varsity head coach’s decision. These athletes will compete as FHS athletes.
· Other 9th graders competing at C-team level will wear CJH uniforms
· 7th and 8th graders compete in the 2A Plateau League wearing their own school uniforms and representing their individual schools.

The school board asked for a recommendation from the committee and the recommendation was to change to a 9-12 athletic configuration by a vote of 10 to 6.

I personally know the Board has had three long study sessions reviewing these formats. They have included principals and district representatives input to solve the problems that exist in the district under the present athletic configuration. This group has worked hard on making adjustments to solve these difficult problems.

Tonight we ask you to make the final decision to be implemented for the start of the 2012 school year.

Thanks for taking the time to read this lengthy message. I think that you should know all the information in the overall context of the issue.

Dr. Steve McCammon
Fife Public Schools Superintendent