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Butte Falls trims drug testing for student athletes

BUTTE FALLS ' Drug testing of student athletes is one habit the school district has decided it needs to cut back on.

After looking at ways to trim its budget, the district will conduct fewer urinalyses of students this year but still plans to keep random tests as a deterrent.

It is the only district in the county that tests its athletes for drugs.

We've just cut down the number of samples, said school board chairman John Huey. We have not cut down on the policy.

The district, which already pared &

36;130,000 out of this year's &

36;1.5 million budget, needs to find ways to save another &

36;200,000 because of continued funding problems from the state.

The drug testing program, which costs &

36;1,800 a year, is a drop in a bucket of cutbacks the district is pondering.

If we do a lot of small things, it adds up, said Huey.

Huey said the element of surprise should keep the program viable, while reducing the frequency of testing should bring costs down to &

36;300 or &

36;400 a year.

Last year, Prospect School District suspended its program, saving &

36;1,500 annually, after it had to cut &

36;80,000 out of its &

36;1.6 million budget.

A urinalysis tests for marijuana, opium, hallucinogens and methamphetamines. But it cannot detect alcohol, one of the most popular drugs among students, according to school officials and students.

Superintendent Steve Pine said the magnitude of the cuts facing the district makes the savings from reducing the amount of testing almost insignificant.

For us, &

36;1,800 is a joke, he said.

It's just one of many little cuts the district will take to pare back expenses.

We're going to consolidate bus routes, he said. We're going to do our own oil changes. I've got a new phone network that will save &

36;55 a month. We're not playing games. We're cutting to the chase.

Pine, who is not only superintendent but principal at both the elementary and high schools, is also eyeing some bigger cuts such as eliminating the current custodial contract and doing it in-house, saving &

36;15,000 annually.

To raise money, the district is considering a pay-for-play program that could charge students &

36;25 a year for each sport or extracurricular activity up to a maximum &

36;75.

Michael Smeltz, a former school board member and opponent of the testing program, said that so far the drug tests haven't been administered this year.

Girls are halfway through the volleyball season and they haven't been tested yet, he said.

This runs counter to the district's previous goal of conducting a test at the beginning of the year, followed by random tests.

I don't believe the district has the money for the tests, he said.

Instead, Smeltz thinks money generated from the proposed pay-for-play program could provide the funds for testing.

While the district has maintained that the testing program is for the safety of the students, Smeltz disagrees.

It's about control and power and antagonism and nonsensical notions about drug abuse, he said.

Pine said he couldn't disclose whether students have been tested, because that information is confidential.

As to Smeltz's assertion that the girls' volleyball team hadn't been tested, Pine responded, How would he know that if it is random and confidential?

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476, or e-mail