Barrington residents: Don't cut our sports

Hundreds turn out for budget hearing; FTM vote is May 24

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Hundreds of Barrington residents turned out to the annual budget hearing on Wednesday night, May 10, including more than a dozen members of the state championship boys' ice hockey team.

The recent title winners were wearing their new championship jackets that they received from the Barrington Boosters Club. The Barrington High School student-athletes attended the meeting to voice their displeasure about the decision to cut funding for the hockey program and other sports teams in Barrington.

School officials had requested a $1.2 million increase to the budget, but members of the town's committee on appropriations recommended eliminating that funding. Instead, appropriations members are recommending that the schools be allocated $47.9 million — the same amount of money they received for the current school year.

Without the increase, school officials proposed a series of cuts. 

At the top of the list were more than a dozen staff positions and funding for all middle school sports, all freshman sports at Barrington High School, and money for the varsity gymnastics, wrestling and boys' and girls' hockey programs.

Varsity hockey players Ian Coyne, TJ Hall and Michael Grieve each spoke about the important role hockey had played in their lives and challenged officials to find a way to reinstate the $1.2 million request from the school department.

Others spoke out for middle school sports. 

Dave DeSisto, who coaches the middle school wrestling team, said eliminating sports will crush students at the middle school. 

"These kids work so hard," said Mr. DeSisto.

He also spoke about how sports can play a key role in teaching students important life lessons. He said wrestling saved him when he was growing up, and he knows it is equally important for today's younger generation.

Chairman of the committee on appropriations, Geoff Grove, told Mr. DeSisto that he too wrestled in high school and cherished that experience. He reminded Mr. DeSisto and the large crowd inside the high school auditorium that while the committee on appropriations recommends a figure for the school budget, it is actually the school administration and school committee that decided what positions and programs to cut.

Barbara Nozaki coaches the field hockey and girls' lacrosse teams at the middle school and asked officials to find a way to save the programs. She said between 60 and 80 girls play field hockey at the middle school each year. She said the experience proves very valuable to them as they grow up and discover who they are, what they like and where their talents are.

Scott Gausland offered a passionate plea to school and town officials. He said he was very upset when he learned that freshman football was going to be cut. He said his son is in the eighth grade and planned to play freshman ball with dozens of other boys in his class next year.

"How do I tell him he can't play freshman sports?" Mr. Gausland asked. "Please work this out… but don't take it out on the kids."

Drew Genetti, head wrestling coach at the high school, shared his concerns. As a teacher in the district, a parent of young children in local schools and as a coach, he stands to be impacted in numerous ways by the proposed cuts. 

Mr. Genetti also asked if the committee on appropriations was penalizing the schools because of the new middle school project. Driving some of the tax increase this year will be the debt service payments on a $68.4 million bond. 

Mr. Grove said that the committee on appropriations views the budget as a whole. When asked if the middle school bond played a role in the $1.2 million cut, Mr. Grove said "It was a factor."

Other people spoke out about programs that had been selected to be cut. Molly Sullivan, a senior at the high school, told officials she had had a great experience in the foods program at the high school. She was upset that officials had picked home economics as one of the areas to be cut.

Grace Flaherty shared a plea for girls' ice hockey.

Heather Johnson spoke about the need for more classroom aides and support services.

Kathy Crain, Gina Bae, Julie Owens, Kathleen Gantz and others each told members of the committee on appropriations that Barrington schools were already operating on a bare bones budget. Some spoke about how the schools have to ration paper or how parents often spend their own money to buy classroom supplies. 

"We cannot afford cuts," said Ms. Crain. 

"There is not a lot of fluff in our budget," said Ms. Gantz.

A handful of residents pointed their criticism away from the committee on appropriations and directly at the school committee and school department administrators. 

Heather Crosby challenged members of the school committee to do a better job examining the school budget, and even asked that they conduct an audit. Ms. Crosby offered a Dave Letterman-style top 10 list of things the school committee could do to improve the budget situation. Included on the list was establishing a better way of checking on the residency of students and also reducing the per pupil cost for students who use special education services. Ms. Crosby said that while Barrington's per pupil expenditure was among the lowest in the state, the district spends, on average, about $27,000 more per special education student.

Tom Fay questioned why school officials would pick sports as one of the areas for potential cuts, considering that it makes up a very small portion of the budget. He said he was very disappointed with local officials.

Joel Hellmann asked the crowd assembled why they believed the school department would select middle school sports for cuts, when the budget item only totals about $30,000. Mr. Hellmann then answered his own question, stating that school officials wanted to draw a big crowd to the meeting. 

"When they say they're going to cut sports, it's because they really want the money," he said. 

Barrington's financial town meeting — where the budget will be voted upon — is set for Wednesday, May 24 at 7 p.m. at Barrington High School. 

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