By JAMES A. ELLIS and
A lot of big decisions will be made Tuesday when local residents turn out to vote on the school budgets for the local school districts.
Earlier this year, some school boards trimmed staff and non-mandated programs in their districts to stay under the state tax cap law. In the Fonda-Fultonville, Broadalbin-Perth and Mayfield School districts, interscholastic athletics were among the proposed cuts.
Since the initial proposals, some aid was restored by the state and contracts re-negotiated allowing funding for several programs and positions to be in the budget proposals.
At Broadalbin-Perth, funding for varsity and modified sports was among the items returned to the budget. However, funing for junior varsity sports was eliminated.
In a news release, B-P administrators said one of the reasons for choosing to maintain a modified program over a junior varsity program was to preserve opportunities for all students in grades seven through 12. While a JV program traditionally serves students in grades nine and 10, under a modified/varsity configuration, students in seventh to ninth grades could play modified sports while students in grades 10-12 could play varsity sports.
Before finalizing the decision, district leaders-including Superintendent Stephen Tomlinson and Athletics Director Adam Barnhart-surveyed other area and Foothills Council schools, to find out what other districts were considering to cutback. Many of the schools surveyed were considering eliminating JV sports, while maintaining modified and varsity programs.
At Mayfield, the situation was dire until the last board meeting in April.
The district had a $2.3 million gap that needed to be closed and was faced with not only cutting interscholastic athletics, but all extracurricular activities along with almost all of its non-mandated programs.
However, with the use of a $1 million in fund balance, $700,000 from its debt service account, an additional $239,950 released from the state that includes the $100,000 "bullet grant" from state Sen. Hugh Farley, and $340,000 the district will save in six retired employees, Mayfield was able avoid any additional cuts from what was made last year.
Mayfield athletic director Eileen Rovito said pressure from the community and the additional money all helped to avoid additional cuts.
"I think the community and different people kind of voiced their opinion," Mayfield athletic director Eileen Rovito said. "In my opinion, I think they decided to revamp our budget to keep the things that were there last year and keep the cuts that were there last year."
Those cuts last year, though, included the elimination of junior varsity baseball, softball and boys and girls soccer teams while reducing its modified programs to one team in volleyball and boys and girls basketball.
Those programs were saved last year as the community was able to raise $28,000 in order to keep the junior varsity programs alive, and Mayfield will be looking to do it again this year.
This year, it already has a head start of more than $10,000 raised to cover the fall sports, but still has to come up with about $16,000 to $18,000 for the winter and spring sports.
Although Rovito is confident that money will be raised, an ethical question comes to mind with the continual need to support these programs.
"I have a concern as an athletic director in how much we can keep asking our community for this?" she asked. "I think athletics is part of the culture of high school and we really need to find a way for the district to support it down the line."
Already fundraising through a big mail in donation campaign that reached business and alumni, Rovito said she doesn't think it's appropriate to reach out like that again.
"We're hoping to get what we need from within our school, from the people that our in sports, so we do need to get the word out there," Rovito said.
While Broadalbin-Perth and Mayfield are looking to stay under the tax cap, Fonda-Fultonville voters are looking at a budget to keep several non-mandated programs, including athletics, but will need a super-majority of 60 percent approval as it is above the cap.
"It is a 7.96 percent tax levy increase, three percent over the cap," Fonda-Fultonville athletic director Alex Mancini said. "We have been running an athletic program here for the past year on basically bare bones. There is no fluff in our athletic budget at this point. We haven't ordered anything other than the very basic equipment, like basketballs, baseballs, soccer ball, so on and so forth. We have not ordered uniforms in three years. Our budget actually is 25 to 30 percent lower than it was three years ago."
Mancini said 60 percent of the student body at Fonda-Fultonville participates on at least one sports team during the school year. That is why athletics was one of the programs reinstated in the budget after being cut early in the budget process.
"I think the administration realized the value of athletics," he said. "It is an extension of the classroom . . . it is a laboratory setting. It involves a great number of students and it is an important part of the fabric that makes up our school. I would hate to see what this school would be like without its athletics."
Looking ahead at the possibility of the budget being voted down, Mancini said, "If this was to fail, it is totally up to the school board and to raise $270,000 to fund a complete athletics program is a huge task. I just see a lot of negative taking place if this comes to fruition."
Several teams are already preparing to help keep or restore sports as part of their schools extra curricular activities.
At Broadalbin-Perth the Sports Boosters club has already raised more the $4,000 with a successful Drive One 4 UR School events sponsored by Brown's Ford. The boosters and athletes are also planning other fundraisers such as selling magazine subscriptions, a money raffle, sale of coupon cards through area businesses and a formal dinner and duathon to reinstate the junior varsity teams for the fall and then continue their efforts after that to rise funds needed for the winter and spring sports.
At Fonda-Fultonville, fund-raisers also are underway.
"If teams got new uniforms, it was because they bought them on their own through fundraisers and that is the kind of things that are going on right now," Mancini said.
Mayfield raised funds last year to reinstate its junior varsity teams after they were dropped in the 2011-12 budget.
Although a high school without sports hasn't been seen in this area yet, there have been some close scares throughout the past couple of years.
What if a budget was so far underwater sports needed to be cut to "benefit" the well being of the school?
"I think it's unimaginable," Rovito said. "I think it's part of the culture that develops kids and give kids opportunities to develop a lot of social skills that they need. I can't foresee it. It just boggles my mind.
"Kids get all the knowledge they need from academics, but they get a lot of the social and life skills from the extracurricular stuff, and not just sports."
Tomlinson explained in the release that if a majority of residents vote no on the proposed budget Tuesday, the board would have to decide whether to offer the same or a revised budget for a second vote June 19, or adopt a contingency budget. If a second budget proposal is defeated by residents June 19, the board would have to adopt a contingency budget-which would require $414,007 in additional spending cuts in order to maintain a 0 percent increase in the tax levy, as required under the state's new tax cap law.
"There would be no way we could reinstate eliminated programs, such as JV sports, under a contingency budget," Tomlinson said in the release. "Instead, additional cuts would be needed. If we have to adopt a contingency budget for the 2012-13 school year, we would have to choose between full-day kindergarten and cutting our entire athletics program. We simply wouldn't be able to afford both."