Residents question cuts to Barrington sports
Others blame committee on appropriations for forcing schools into the decision
Was the school department trying to draw out a loud public response or was it simply identifying the only items in the budget that could be eliminated?
On more than one occasion during Wednesday night's budget hearing, residents questioned the school committee and administrators on their decision to pick certain sports programs for elimination. In an effort to compensate for the loss of a $1.2 million budget increase, school officials proposed cuts to the equivalent of 16.5 staff positions as well as four high school sports teams and the entire middle school sports program.
It costs about $30,000 to run all middle school sports and a total of $170,000 for all the sports programs identified in the cuts.
Tom Fay, the father of four including one current high school student, said the cuts to sports equaled only .003 percent of the school budget. He said it appeared that school officials were sensationalizing the budget issue, and he added that he was upset with them for doing so.
"It's really disappointing," Mr. Fay said.
Following the meeting, Barrington School Committee Chairwoman Kate Brody defended the decision-making process that led to the cuts. She said she trusted the work of the school administrators.
"It wasn't an inflammatory move," she said, referring to the cuts to sports. "There was nothing nefarious there."
Ms. Brody said school officials were limited in the cuts they could propose — certain areas of instruction are mandated by the state. She added that officials went through the budget and identified areas that would have the least impact to students.
In addition to all middle school sports, the cuts include gymnastics, wrestling and boys' and girls' hockey teams at the high school. Also slated for elimination were home economics programs, some foreign language classes and art, music and library staffing positions.
Ms. Brody said the school committee questioned the administration about the potential cuts.
Joel Hellmann spoke at the budget hearing Wednesday night. The former member of the committee on appropriations approached the microphone and then turned to face the crowd of about 500 people who had turned out for the meeting.
He asked them, "Why do you think the school committee cut middle school sports?"
Then he answered his own question, "To fill this room."
In a recent letter to the editor, Mr. Hellmann referenced the proposed cuts to school sports and asked parents of schoolchildren to see through the alleged ploy.
"Jedi mind tricks only work on the weak-minded," he wrote.
While some people questioned the cuts, others at the hearing pointed at the committee on appropriations as the instigating party.
Gina Bae, who filed a motion to reinstate the $1.2 million back into the budget, said the schools were already dealing with a bare bones budget. To the committee on appropriations she said, You have put the school committee in this position.
Diane Baxter and others echoed that comment at Wednesday's budget hearing, and another resident asked appropriations chairman Geoff Grove where he would have made cuts in the school budget. Mr. Grove declined to answer at first, stating that that was not the role of the committee on appropriations.
But when pressed to respond, Mr. Grove said he would have looked elsewhere in the budget for savings, adding that he would have retained or "prioritized" school programs and sports.
The annual financial town meeting — when taxpayers will vote on the budget — is set for Wednesday, May 24, at Barrington High School at 7 p.m.
The committee on appropriations is scheduled to meet on Tuesday, May 16, in the middle school library at 7 p.m.