2009-08-20 / Front Page

North Kingstown H.S. cuts freshman sports

By Eileen M. Daly

Some Jamestown student-athletes heading into their freshman year at North Kingstown High School may soon find themselves without a sports program.

North Kingstown School Committee Chairman Larry Cerisi and school committee members Lynda Avanzato and Doug Roth have all confirmed that budget cuts have resulted in the elimination of the boys and girls freshman basketball program, the freshman football program and a reduction in the athletic director’s salary and duties, as well as the elimination of the athletic clerk’s position at the high school.

According to the 2009-2010 budget, some $70,000 has been cut from athletic programs at North Kingstown High School. Jamestown will send approximately 45 freshmen to North Kingstown High School this September.

School committees across the state are struggling to cut costs during this tight fiscal season and North Kingstown is no exception. Where those costs can be reduced – and what programs ought to be trimmed or cut entirely – is a matter of some discussion, both in the community and among North Kingstown School Committee members themselves.

Jamestown School Committee Chairperson Cathy Kaiser said that as unfortunate as it is, cuts to sports and other student activities are a fact of the future.

“Parents need to contact their legislators,” she said. “We need to allow communities to charge for sports.”

Kaiser, who teaches in Massachusetts, said that districts there are allowed to charge an activities fee, which covers sports and other student activities.

“We need to be as pragmatic as they are in Massachusetts,” she said. “It’s the only way to support these programs.”

Roth has been vocal in his opposition to the budget cuts made by this school committee.

“These cuts do not reflect my values,” Roth said.

In a letter to the North Kingstown Standard Times, Roth attacked both the reductions made by the committee, as well as its long-term spending decisions, calling them “a grave mistake.”

“This is what people mean when they say the district is cutting without a view to consequences. It’s not just the reductions. It’s the long term spending that needs to be looked at too. Thus far the process of reduction has been politicized, reactionary and shortsighted in my opinion,” Roth said in his letter.

Roth maintains that there is money available for the restoration of programs like freshman sports, but said that the school committee has been unwilling to use these funds for this purpose. He pointed to the recent restoration of sports programs in Woonsocket as being “exactly what I mean.”

According to an Aug. 18 article in the Providence Journal, the Woonsocket school committee has used an unexpected surplus in the school district’s pension accounts to restore high school sports programs in that district. According to Roth, the North Kingstown School Department has experienced a similar surplus situation from pension reforms. Moreover, Roth said there are a number of areas where either unexpected surpluses or cost-cutting measures could be utilized to restore programs — not only athletic programs, but other programs, such as technology, that have experienced significant cuts.

Pension reform is only one area of available surplus, Roth said, adding that state aid was budgeted for a bigger decrease than was actually received. This has resulted in surplus monies as well, Roth said.

Committee member Lynda Avanzato acknowledged that some savings were accrued from pension reform, but she was emphatic in her appraisal that “we are not awash in money.”

Avanzato also said that there are often unexpected expenses that arise during a school year that need to be addressed.

“We have already had to restore three .5 kindergarten teacher positions due to unexpectedly high enrollment numbers,” Avanzato said. The district will also be receiving one more special education student than was budgeted for, Avanzato said, adding that these unexpected costs will have to be addressed with the available funds. “We would like to restore everything that we can,” she said, “and the committee will certainly be looking at ways to restore not only sports programs, but other areas that have been cut as well. I’d like to see a more fair distribution of funds, not only in sports programs, but across the board,” she said.

Chairman Larry Cerisi expressed similar sentiments.

“We have had to make cuts to teachers, to psychologists, to speech therapists. It’s not just the sports programs that have been cut,” Cerisi said. Both Cerisi and Avanzato further emphasized that the sports cuts were made in conjunction with – and at the recommendation of – the athletic director.

According to all accounts – calls to the remaining North Kingstown School Committee members were not returned – freshman sports have been eliminated at the high school for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, however, according to Avanzato, this message has not been disseminated to all students participating in these programs.

“I have had a number of parents tell me that their children are practicing, that they are on the field and that they have been told that freshman sports are intact when that is not the case,” Avanzato said.

As to whether or not these programs will be restored, North Kingstown High School coach Aaron Thomas made a request at the last school committee meeting that this discussion be placed on the agenda. Chairman Cerisi has confirmed that further discussions on the topic will take place.

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