A routine East Rockaway school board meeting quickly turned emotional on Tuesday night at when parents voiced their displeasure with the district’s proposed removal of middle school sports.
The suggested plan rose out of a continuing effort to balance the 2012-2013 budget, according to the board. The board is currently looking for ways to fill a $35,000 budget gap, according to Board President Neil Schloth.
“It’s a very painful thing that we have to go through,” Schloth told Patch. “We have to decide what is going to have the least impact on the school district and what we can afford to do that’s going to least impact the academic success of our children.”
Parents were very displeased with the programs that the board chose to cut.
“Middle school students, ages 10-14, are a distinct group of adolescents,” parent Paula Cerasoli said, citing an article about a district having similar issues in Culpeper, Virginia. “...Athletes learn important life skills such as teamwork, commitment, sportsmanship, dedication, responsibility, and leadership.”
Trustee Patricia Nicoletti attempted to explain a portion of the rationale behind the decision, citing words spoken by Athletic Director Dominick Vulpis to parents at a recent middle school basketball pizza party.
"[Vulpis] said that when each of the supervisors in the district were forced to make cuts, he felt that middle school sports would be the best way to get that money because when our students are graduating high school and going off to college, the colleges do not look at middle school sports - they look at high school sports,” Nicoletti said.
Nicoletti noted that the district is leaving money in the budget for middle school students to play intramural sports. Competitive middle school sports cost approximately $60,000, according to the board.
Parents had other concerns besides the emotional and mental development of athletes.
“We will not be able to compete with (other districts) when we get to JV and varsity, especially football players,” one parent said. “By having children not prepared to play against JV and varsity from other districts, you are putting them in physical danger.”
The board explained to those assembled that, while the elimination of middle school sports was a “heart-wrenching” decision, they had little choice in the matter given the current economic climate.
Trustee Kristin Ochtera tried to communicate the dilemma to parents.
“We did not go into this with a blindfold...We are at the point right now where we are hoping that money comes back from the state because we still need to find $35,000," Ochtera said.
“We don’t even know where to take another $35,000 from,” she said. “I wish I could say to you ‘I’ll find that money from someplace else.’ But I don’t know where else to look.”
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