Seventh- and eighth-grade Utica Community School children will play fall sports, but the winter and spring sports programs were cut from the 2011-12 school year budget.
“We aren’t eliminating fall sports,” said UCS Board of Trustee Carl Territo. “We’re giving you an opportunity to continue should a plan be worked out to find the funding.”
Nearly a dozen emotionally charged parents and coaches spoke to the board and proposed alternative funding plans from pay-to-play, independent fundraising and raising concession stand prices at athletic events to offset the cost.
“Let’s be creative and find a way to save it,” said UCS parent Lisa Studzinski. “Let’s work through this and find an avenue.”
Assistant School Board Superintendent Robert Van Camp will head up a committee made up of parents to come up with ideas to raise the funds to save the winter and spring athletic programs. A volunteer sign-up sheet was passed around after the meeting, and about 40 parents had already signed up to be a part of the solution.
“You have underestimated the community and families for what they will do to save our programs,” said Kelly Kubick, a parent of six.
The community will have to come up with more than $230,000 to fund the winter and spring sports. The fall sports that were spared for the year are football, volleyball and cheerleading. Even though cheerleading is a club, there are coaching fees involved, the district said.
The district would have saved a net total of $522,700 had it cut the entire seventh- and eighth-grade athletics program, which was the original recommendation to the board.
Many parents were irate with the idea of cutting the entire program and more than an hour-and-a-half of public comment was heard. One mother began to cry while commenting on the cuts and another father, David Weaver, left a roll of toilet paper at the podium stating that the cuts were too extreme and he wouldn’t be surprised if the board starts asking parents to pay for the district’s toilet paper.
Some parents suggested that the district will shrink because athletes will begin to look for schools of choice that offer junior high school sports.
“What will these cuts do to the high school sports?” asked UCS parent Susan Megee. “They will not have the skills you need to excel. You could kiss the whole UCS School athletics goodbye if this passes.”
One parent told Patch that the meeting would have gone smoother had the board told parents from the beginning that it was considering keeping seventh- and eighth-grade fall sports.
There are more than 2,000 seventh- and eighth-grade students involved in UCS’s athletics programs.
“I am not happy with it,” said Ken Krolczk, who will be seated on the school board in July. “I would have voted another way. I feel like once you do something you don’t get it back, but it is better than cutting it totally. Hopefully we can reinstate it.”
Board Warns of Future Funding Woes if Drastic Measures Are Not Taken
The school board repeatedly said they have made all the easy cuts to the budget, but now it's time to make the really difficult cuts. If the board doesn’t continue to make cuts to balance a deficit created from the state’s school funding budget, the district could be in jeopardy of a state takeover next year, according to a financial report presented at the meeting.
“When I presented last year’s budget, I warned of major cuts,” said UCS Superintendent Christine Johns. “The school aid package that was adopted is far beyond anyone’s imagination.”
In the past six years, UCS has cut more than $100 million from its budget, by shuttering four elementary schools, laying off nearly 700 teachers, implementing furlough day and wage freezes, reducing band and athletic offerings and expanding schools of choice. And the cuts don’t stop there.
A decision Monday night to ratify the district’s transportation union’s contracts saved the district another $4 million. The new contract for the 250 members includes cutting life insurance and long-term disability and a 3 percent pay cut.
“Thanks to the transportation unit for the tremendous sacrifices,” said Trustee Gene Klida. “This is a life-changing sacrifice that will alter the way their households operate.”
Deana Felosak, who has been with the transportation department for more than 30 years, said she will continue to do her job with a smile on her face.
“We love the kids and we will still do our job. We have pride,” she said.
UCS started the 2011-12 school year off with $245 million in revenue and $280 million in expenditures, leaving a $36 million gap. Through a series of reductions, UCS Representative Tim McAvoy said, the district has projected to narrow the current $10 million debt to zero by the end of the financial year, which ends in July.