Friday, February 25, 2011

Community School lives up to its name

The school will continue to thrive.

By Jay Hagenbuch

As a former director and current parent of two students at Community School, I welcome the opportunity to provide some additional information on the school's recently announced reorganization.

Let's first put Community School's contributions to the Wood River Valley in perspective. The school opened its doors 37 years ago. Hundreds of graduates have gone on to succeed at some of our nation's most prestigious colleges and universities and are making contributions in business, law, medicine, the arts and not-for-profit organizations, including many right here in the valley. Student/athletes and graduates have represented the U.S. on five Olympic teams and/or have won medals at national championships and the Winter X games.

The school offers use of its facilities to many local organizations. It awards financial aid or tuition remission to about 30 percent of its families—a far greater percentage than most independent schools. Its students, faculty and administration perform many hundreds of hours of community service annually. Community School is one of the largest employers in the valley, and its existence has enabled many families who believe in the value of independent education to move here and contribute to the economic vitality of our community.

The Great Recession has hurt many people and businesses nationally, regionally and here in the valley—just ask any of your neighbors involved in real estate development and sales, retail businesses, or commercial or residential construction. It has caused many families to reduce their expenses and in some cases move away in search of employment. Like other businesses that are not supported by tax dollars, Community School has been impacted. As a result, while suffering a one-time operating loss in its current 2010-11 fiscal year, the school's board of directors and administration had to make a number of difficult but responsible budget decisions to right-size the school's expenses going forward. Regretfully, this will eliminate eight positions for the school year beginning July 1, leaving 65 full- and part-time members of the faculty and administration employed. While certainly difficult for the individuals whose positions are being discontinued, an 11 percent staff reduction in this economic environment is unfortunately an increasingly commonplace occurrence.

Community School has launched an initiative to partner with the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation to attract scholar/athletes from around the world to take advantage of the foundation's world-class coaching and venue in combination with a Community School education.

Community School owns its recently remodeled campus. Its long-term financial health is secured by a multi-million-dollar endowment. Students benefit from exceptional teachers, a low student/teacher ratio, close student/faculty relationships, an unrivaled outdoor educational program, competitive interscholastic sports teams, a vibrant theater-and-arts program as well as a wide array of academic course offerings. Despite this tough economic environment and based on the commitment of the faculty, staff, board and parent body, the school will continue to thrive.

Like other Wood River Valley self-funded and not-for-profit organizations, such as the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation, Company of Fools, Sun Valley Center for the Arts, the Sun Valley Writers' Conference, the Sun Valley Summer Symphony and the YMCA, Community School helps attract new residents and visitors to our wonderful valley. The success of all of these organizations over the long term will have a direct impact on our community's quality of life and continuing vitality.

Jay Hagenbuch is a former member of the governing board of the Community School in Sun Valley.

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