In the face of deep budget cuts, Bremerton parents seek restoration of full-time P.E.

When the Bremerton School District cut physical education, music and library programs in half last year, elementary school students were cooped in their classrooms with less time to run around and expend energy.

"We haven't been able to get all of our energy out and have that fun," said Bridger Schuster, fifth grader at Kitsap Lake Elementary.

Bridger had a lot more headaches because of the reduced free time and this year has been plodding along more slowly than previous school years, he added.

His mother, Michelle Schuster, said she sees the effects that the slashed programs have on her two children. State law requires students receive 100 minutes of physical instruction a week, compared to the 30 minutes per week Bremerton students are allowed.

"I can see the change in them," she said. "Both children complain about having to sit too much in school. I think children will perform better if they're able to get that energy out."

Her daughter in kindergarten, Astyn, said she wishes she had more music and library time.

"We don't get to check out books," she said. "It's really not fun."

Debbie Lindgren, physical education teacher at Naval Avenue Early Learning Center, said the reduction of physical education has kept her students behind in national fitness standards. That activity also helps students perform better in school.

"Teachers tell me they wish we had P.E. every day because students come back ready to learn," Lindgren said.

The national guideline for physical education is 150 minutes a week, Lindgren said.

That's why parents and district Budget Committee members hope to bring those programs back full-time next year. They were cut last year to make up for a $2.5 million budget shortfall, reducing twice-weekly music and P.E. to a half-hour each week. Those programs would have to be restored in the face of further - and more drastic - budget deficits.

Wayne Lindberg, director of finance and operations, said that with leftover I-728 money carrying over to next year - money intended to keep elementary class sizes down — the school district will be $300,000 short in its $34 million budget. But he sounded the alarm for the 2011-2012 at a public budget forum April 29, when the district will face a "cliff" due to the disappearance of stimulus money and I-728 dollars with a $5 to $6 million deficit.

Regardless, parents and committee members say that the district can - and must - reinstate physical education and music programs.

"If you do not build a strong foundation at elementary school, how are you going to build upon it in middle school?" said Walt Connolly, chairman of the Budget Committee. "We have to make hard choices."

Two weeks ago, Connolly announced the committee's budget priorities to the school board, indicating that among its top priorities was to restore the programs, called "specialist programs." The committee will make its final recommendations to the board May 6. A final budget is due in July.

Ivaly Alexander, a district parent and substitute teacher, said specialist programs can be restored at the elementary level by reallocating money in the budget, pointing out that middle school students get one hour of P.E. daily versus the half-hour per week for the younger set.

"A half-hour a week for P.E. for little kids is ridiculous," Alexander said, adding that the elementary kids need that time the most. "When you're getting children active, they're becoming better learners."

Lindberg said bringing back full specialist programs is a tough proposition considering the forthcoming $6 million gap. He said that if those programs are brought back next year, they'd likely be cut again the following year.

Linda Simpson, a district parent and member of the Budget Committee, said it's not a matter of needing more money, but using money wisely. If the district prioritizes the specialist programs, there is room to make cuts elsewhere.

"There's a huge disparity in where the focus should be," Simpson said. "If there's enough of a public outcry, the district will have no choice but to make it happen."

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