Interscholastic middle school sports are an integral part of student achievement, school administrators said Tuesday night, and with sports teams already operating off a minimal budget, members of the Board of Education appear poised to instead back the Superintendent’s proposal and eliminate 22 full-time positions.
The Board of Education discussed the possibility of cutting middle school sports, a line item of just over $100,000 in the 2012-13 budget proposal submitted by School Superintendent Joseph V. Erardi Jr., but were deterred after Principal Frank Pepe and Angelo Campagnano said sports have helped improve student achievement and provided a sense of community.
“Interscholastic sports play a big part in trying to foster a positive learning environment at the middle school level,” Pepe said. “Sports highlight the importance of sportsmanship, collaboration and teamwork that is part of the philosophy we have at the middle school level.”
Board members took on the discussion as part of their budget workshop held at Tuesday night as members looked to keep costs manageable that Erardi proposed be eliminated in the upcoming school year.
Erardi’s proposal, which was released to the public on Jan. 12, calls for a 3.88 percent increase – much of this can be attributed to rising contractual costs for personnel, insurance and transportation – but included the elimination of 22 positions including 15 teachers and seven paraprofessionals.
The reduction included nine teaching positions at the elementary school level, two positions in the middle schools and four at .
The board has done a lot of work in recent years to keep class sizes low, especially at the elementary school level, and during their first workshop last week board members Terri Carmody, Terry Lombardi and Jill Notar-Francesco asked Erardi to consider other cuts to non-mandated programs including middle school sports in an effort to restore staff positions at the elementary school level.
Pepe and Campagnano said cutting middle school sports any further would be detrimental to efforts to promote school unity, however.
“Only 30 percent of students may participate directly, but if you have ever looked outside after classes end and seen the way the community comes out to support them and the way their friends hang around to watch the games and practices, it reaches far more than just the students who are playing,” Campagnano said.
Athletic Director Eric Swallow said sports have also been beneficial in providing mentorship to middle school students as well as helping middle school children make the transition into being high school students.
The high school’s athletes will go down and use the middle school fields for practice, often inviting the kids to join them, Swallow said. In addition, the middle school athletes and eighth grade students are invited to come see the high school facilities.
In the past five years, the Board of Education has cut funding to middle school sports and as a result, it has left schedules at a “bare minimum,” Swallow said.
“At this point, it would be all or nothing,” Swallow said.
Erardi instead suggested a change to his proposal that would still eliminate 22 full-time positions, but would instead leave the 15 teaching positions “open” rather than determining now where to make reductions.
“I am still recommending after review that the board consider a reduction of 22 employees, but would leave the agenda open with a number of 15 teachers at all levels,” Erardi said. “If the trends continue, I would anticipate my original recommendation but it’s too early in the process.”
Erardi said all 15 positions would be left open throughout the budget process and the board could revisit which positions to eliminate later in the year. This would allow the board to have a better idea of class sizes before adjusting staff to help maintain reasonable classroom populations.
“It’s a marathon. We will be into this for about 3.5 months and can have a better conversation with better data to make the best decision,” he said.
The Board of Education completed their workshops Tuesday and will take action on the budget Thursday evening. The budget request would then be forwarded to the Board of Finance.
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