The majority of the Amphitheater Public Schools Governing Board Feb. 25 meeting focused on ironing out kinks in the district's proposed changes to eligibility rules for students participating in extra-curricular, competitive activities that fall under the Arizona Interscholastic Association umbrella.

A pilot program adopted by the board in August 2002 has shown certain "problem areas" in implementation, said Amphi Athletic Director Michael Bejarano, primarily the requirement that students miss no more than five days of school to retain AIA eligibility.

Currently, students can participate in AIA programs - including all sports, band, choir and chess club - if they are enrolled in a minimum of five classes (four for seniors), receive no grades of "F" or non-completion, do not have a discipline violation involving drugs or alcohol and are in all classes the day of a competition unless excused by an administrator.

The pilot program requires AIA participants have a "C" average, no grades of "F", no severe discipline infractions (including theft, cheating, insubordination and weapons use), no more than five excused or unexcused absences per semester and, if a senior, have taken all sections of the AIMS test. Violation of the absences or discipline rules results in ineligibility for the remainder of the year, no matter when the infractions took place.

Bejarano said that in running the pilot, equity difficulties arose and so he recommended adjusting the proposed changes - to be implemented next fall - to allow excused absences and to determine a specific period of ineligibility as a consequence for breaking the policy.

Amphi Superintendent Vicki Balentine told the board that the attendance portion of the policy "is the most problematic in terms of assuring that we are being fair," and said she supported Bejarano's recommendation that excused absences be allowed.

Parents at Coronado K-8 School expressed concerns at the Superintendent's Community Council meeting last month that students from Coronado who participate in 4-H and miss a week of school to show animals at the Pima County Fair would be punished for that educational activity by not being allowed to participate in sports. Under Bejarano's proposal to allow excused absences, those absences would be excused and the students could still participate in athletics.

To help ensure that students aren't excused as sick "just because they slept in and missed their first two classes," Bejarano also suggested changing the policy to require attendance in all classes on a particular day, unless excused by an administrator, in order to attend practice, not just to compete.

Kathy Borg, a parent from Ironwood Ridge, addressed the board, saying, "a lot of parents are concerned about the "huge gray zone" surrounding what makes an excused absence and who will keep track of it all.

"From a parent's point of view, this is really confusing," she said. "We want to follow the rules … but who is going to play police?"

Balentine said that state statute allows a parent to take the child out of school for whatever reason the parent allows and "that then becomes an excused absence."

"It is really very simple," said Bejarano, "You come to practice, you get to play in a game. If you miss practice, you don't play. If you have a reason to be out of school, it will be excused, so you can practice and play."

He added that students out for illness have notes from parents and students out for doctor's appointments get notes from doctors. Basically, Bejarano said, if a student says they are at a doctor and there is no documentation, the coach will know within a few days when attendance is posted that the student lied to come to practice.

"It won't be a happy coach," he said.

The proposed change to implement a specific time period of ineligibility for a consequence instead of having a discipline or attendance violations carry a "remainder of the year" ineligibility concerned some boardmembers.

"Sports today is important for keeping some of these kids in school, (but) I think it is a worthy goal for us to not merely try to keep them in school through sports, but to try to get them to do well in school with sports. I think that should be our goal," said Boardmember Mike Prout. "I'm not sure we should be cavalier about attendance."

Bejarano said coaches "are there not to just get the kid by, but to get the kid to show he's a productive, or she's a productive, member of our community; truly that's our goal," but that if a spring athlete violates policy in the fall and become ineligible for his spring sport, there is no incentive for him to behave the remainder of the year.

Kent Barrabee, board vice president, encouraged taking "a minimalist approach" toward setting numbers of absences and a set number of ineligible days for violation of policy.

"The more we set up numbers like five or 10, the more we'll raise flags away from what is really critical. … the real issue is: Is the student able to maintain the grade level average?" Barrabee said. "The only advantage I can see to counting the absences is a type of preventive to try to keep the student from ending up with grades that are below the required grade level of 'C'."

In addition, Barrabee said putting "an arbitrary number" on the consequence for discipline issues makes it "like we're treating all the discipline infractions pretty much as though they're equal, when in fact, it is the hearing officer who is in the best position to assess each situation."

Boardmember Jeff Grant said he agreed that excused absences should be eliminated from the policy, but "my concern is how consistent are the attendance policies between schools in the district."

Balentine said Amphi had learned while piloting the proposed new athletic rules that inconsistencies in attendance policies exist "well beyond interscholastics" and the information from the pilot is helping staff realize where policies need to be brought "more in line."

Bejarano was instructed to continue studying the pilot information from schools with the goal of bringing the finalized plan before the board for adoption March 11.

In other business, Doug Aho, Amphi district executive manager for operational support reported that due to utility cost saving measures, "primarily just turning things off on the weekends," the district saved $29,978 at three schools during July, August and September of last year.

Boardmember Patricia Clymer, who has unofficially taken the place of former Board President Ken Smith as legislative update person, said she was glad to hear the district was being proactive in reducing utilities costs because "in my talks with legislators, of all the budget cuts they are talking about, they seem to agree that career ladder and the excess utilities fund are two that will be cut."

The board also heard a review by District Counsel Todd Jaeger concerning Amphi's new "Paying it Forward for Education" campaign. Jaeger reminded the board that Monterey Homes, Estes Co., A.F. Sterling and Black Horse Advisors had given educational donations averaging $1,200 per home to the district to offset costs of educating children from those new developments.

"We hope others will join this partnership of community leaders who clearly understand the importance of 'Paying it Forward for Education'," Jaeger read from a prepared statement. The donations were all received from builders seeking rezonings. At the Feb. 19 Oro Valley Town Council meeting, Jaeger asked Oro Valley to support "Paying it Forward for Education" by requiring Cottonwood Properties to pony up similar donations, something Cottonwood has refused to do. The Council listened to Jaeger's request, but voted 4-1 to approve the Cottonwood plat, which required no rezoning, without promise of educational donations.

"One of the reasons it is so important to communicate our need (to developers) is that even if we could convince the School Facilities Board … that we were to be given land or money, the amount of money they'd give us to build these facilities is about 30 percent less than what we just spent to build Painted Sky (Elementary School)," said Young Wright.

Amphi allots 116 square feet per pupil at the elementary school level, whereas the SFB allots only 80 square feet. For the future middle school site the district says is needed within five years, plans call for 99 square feet per pupil; SFB would only build a school with 80 square feet per student.

The School Facilities Board has denied Amphi money for school construction for the next 10 years because of uncrowded classrooms in the district's southern end.

Jaeger said after the meeting that the educational donations are necessary because "if we don't have the means to address the growth, we won't be able to absorb the growth of new developments. We've got to object when these rezonings come up, or just let the developers know that we're going to have to bus the kids from their project to other schools … I think homeowners want to know they can send their kid to the school down the street."

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