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Copyright 2014 Sun Journal
Sun Journal (Lewiston, Maine)
LEWISTON -- A proposal to cut athletics and co-curricular activities by 25 percent in schools put city school officials to the test Monday night.
In a crowded meeting room, the School Committee heard from principals, athletic directors, coaches and parents about how such cuts will affect students.
Shawn Chabot, principal of Lewiston Middle School, outlined a plan to reduce intramural activities from three days a week to two.
Chabot also said sports teams currently competing as seventh- and eighth-grade teams will be combined into a "middle school" team. Teams affected would be baseball, softball, soccer, football, basketball and field hockey.
Prospective players would be expected to compete for positions on the combined teams.
Co-curricular after-school activities such as the art club, pride club, math club, cribbage, drama and yearbook would also be eliminated. Chabot said leadership groups such as Civil Rights and Student Council would remain active.
Band and chorus would remain part of the curriculum. However, clubs that operate as a co-curricular would be cut.
Citing the risk of drug use among adolescents, Chabot emphasized how eliminating these programs will have a negative impact on the middle school community. He said keeping those students in school in a structured environment helps keep kids out of trouble.
"The better off those students are," Chabot said, "and I think one could argue, our community as a whole are."
Committee member Linda Scott said the cuts made her "sick" and "disgusted."
Chabot offered an alternative scenario where the middle school eliminates an education technician position could offset some of the cost of other programs, but he also said the school is set for higher enrollment in the coming years.
City councilor and committee member Donald D'Auteuil asked about a possible "pay to play" scenario.
Chabot responded that many families would not have the means to participate in a pay program.
Chabot said, besides athletics, co-curricular activities provide the same structure and learning environment students just can't get in classrooms. He said band and drama are just as important for those who participate as football and other sports.
Mike Childs of Lewiston coaches basketball at the middle school and said he had 49 students try out for his seventh grade team, of which he could only keep 13.
"If you think I didn't feel it, I did," he said.
He said he and another coach treat the players like family, raising money for the team themselves. Childs said they took the players to a Red Claws game this year without help from the school.
Referring to the middle school program as a "feeder" for the high school, Childs said cutting the program will hurt basketball down the line. He also questioned forcing seventh-graders to compete on an eighth grade level to play on a team.
Lewiston High School Athletic Director Jason Fuller called the cuts a "drastic impact" on his programs.
Fuller said over the last four years his coaches have helped save money as budgets tightened. Freshman teams in girls soccer, field hockey, girls basketball, baseball and softball had already been cut.
Shortening schedules, regional games to reduce transportation costs, equipment and contracts were all tightened, according to Fuller. Those cuts already amounted to the 25 percent now asked of them.
He thanked his coaching staff saying, "They've stood up, they've embraced it. They've never run from a cut, they've never pointed a finger to say cut someplace else."
Outlining new cuts, Fuller said the intramural program would be eliminated, saving $14,267. Eight coaching staff would also be eliminated, saving an additional $21,550 in stipends.
Fuller said he would also cut some practice hours and in his boldest move, he proposed the drastic reduction of the transportation budget, saving $40,000. He said he would maintain $10,000 in the budget for emergencies.
Other cuts would include officials, security and equipment expenses. Admission rates for sporting events would also increase to offset the budget cuts. Fundraising by Athletic Boosters would also be expected to pick up some of the loss.
"How are we going to get these parents to do more?" committee member Scott asked. She questioned how proper fundraising can be accomplished with so few parents doing the work.
Comments offered to the committee also addressed how fundraising efforts may backfire when every athlete from every sport essentially competes for the same money from people and businesses in such a small area.