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Parents: athletic cuts not worth the savings

January 19, 2011
BELMONT — Last Thursday dozens of parents and students came out to hear the Shaker Regional School Board's budget presentation, then asked the board to reject the proposed elimination of B sports teams at Belmont Middle School.

Though the board listened to concerns it ultimately voted to move the $18.2 million budget forward to the public hearings scheduled for February. That budget includes the elimination of B sports as well as practice transportation for golf and skiing for both high school junior varsity and BMS A teams; the loss of JV scrimmages and holiday tournaments; and the support of sports programs for grades five and six through volunteers. It also reduces JV games from 16 to 12, the minimum number allowed by the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association, and reduces coaching staff from two to one for both JV cross country and alpine skiing.

Early in the meeting Superintendent Mark Blount reviewed the most updated recommendations from the Finance Committee, which restored JV athletics and BMS A team athletics but eliminated the items listed above. He said the committee's goal had been to achieve a 2 percent or less increase over the current budget, a goal that had been set by the School Board.

The final recommended budget comes in at $18,181,794, which is $347,859 more than the current budget, an increase of 1.95 percent. That equates to a 5.81 percent local school tax rate increase in Belmont, or 70 cents, and would reduce Canterbury's local school tax rate by 3.74 percent, or 47 cents.

"The district is challenged this year because of fewer dollars coming from the state," board chair Diane O'Hara said. "We have budgeted with the assumption that we will not get additional dollars, and that's about $1.7 million."

Despite that bad news, many parents in the audience said they wouldn't mind their taxes going up if it meant keeping all sports programs intact.

School Board member Pret Tuthill pointed out that at the public hearings in February, there will likely be a whole other population of taxpayers who are not as willing to watch their taxes go up any more.

"We want to bring forward a budget that will pass," he said.

Several parents said they supported implementing a pay to play program.

"I have a really hard time with your cutting the B sports in that I think you will disinclude a number of children who need to be involved with things," Diana Scott of Canterbury said. "Put it back on the table and say pay if you want to play."

That suggestion, however, raised concerns that children who couldn't afford to pay fees would suffer. Gary Spaulding of Canterbury said local businesses would likely support sponsorships or scholarships to help families who couldn't afford to pay program fees.

Kathleen Morrill said she was concerned about not having transportation for students participating on the ski team and in golf.

"Middle school students can't drive," she said, and parents will have a hard time getting them to practices in the middle of the afternoon.

Sherry O'Connell of Belmont said all three of her children played sports in the district, and her biggest worry was that getting rid of B teams would create a whole group of kids who would never play sports.

"Success breeds success," she said. "When they're not busy, that's when the trouble begins."

Belmont resident Donna Iacopucci asked the board to think about the cuts from a social standpoint, not just fiscal. She said childhood obesity is a problem that eliminating sports would only contribute too. She also said that the town's attractiveness to potential residents has a lot to do with how the school district is perceived.

"We pay so much in taxes, a little teeny bit extra to keep this in line would be fabulous," she said.

The Finance Committee recommendations also included the elimination of one full-time custodian and the reduction of two full-timers to part-time status.

Barbara Binnette asked whether furloughs or pay decreases had been considered in lieu of eliminating a position, which they had not.

"People need to work right now," Binnette said.

When pressured by the public to respond to their concerns and suggestions regarding sports, the board reiterated that the district will very likely be losing out on state funds, which made creating the budget extremely difficult. O'Hara said the public would have more opportunities to speak at the public hearings, and the board unanimously approved moving the budget forward to those hearings.

"Our goal is to try to strike a balance," O'Hara said. "We need to come together as a group and find something we can compromise on."

Though no firm numbers were available, it was estimated that restoring all sports programs, including transportation, would cost roughly $100,000.

The public hearings will be held at BMS on Feb. 15 and at Canterbury Elementary School on Feb. 16. Both begin at 6 p.m.

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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