Schools Looking for New Ways to Fund Middle School Sports Program

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Parents of middle school athletes could soon face higher fees if the school system can’t find outside help to plug almost $100,000 in cuts to athletic programs in the Fiscal 2015 school budget.

The school committee unanimously approved the proposed Fiscal 2015 cost center budget on Wednesday. The $39,232,000 budget is an increase of $2,557,000 from the Fiscal 2014 budget, but includes $92,000 in cuts to the middle school athletic program at the high school and middle school.

While the school budget for Fiscal 2015 budget is an increase of $2,557,000 from the FY 2014 budget, it is still below the $6,186,507 increase the committee requested from the Town Council.

According to the budget passed Wednesday, the School Committee allocated $598,057 for athletic programs throughout the school system.

Superintendent Jean Fitzgerald said the school system would need “re-imagine how it funds athletics,” which possibly includes looking for private sponsorships for teams and increasing fees for students who play sports.

“Due to budget constraints, this year difficult decisions need to be made on how to keep our robust athletic program that we all enjoy,” Fitzgerald said.

Since the issue of changing the fee structure is a policy decision it would have to be addressed at the budget and finance subcommittee, Fitzgerald said. She has already requested a meeting on the matter.

“We need to seek alternative sources of funding to keep our middle school sports program going,” Fitzgerald said. “We are at the point where we do need to reach out to the community as ask for help.…I’m not taking this lightly at all, it’s a reality for this year.”

This past year there were 401 student athletes at the high School and 275 at middle school, Fitzgerald said. The current fees were waved for 34 percent of high school athlete’s financial constraints.

Jay Hughes, a parent of an eighth grader at Watertown Middle School, said he was very concerned about the possibility of raising fees during the meeting, and advocated for an outside consultant to examine how the money in the school budget is spent.

“I’d be a huge fan of that as a taxpaying member and as a user,” Hughes said.

While Hughes acknowledged that the town offers great services to the community, it still needs to find ways to be more efficient.

“[We have] strong schools, strong police, strong fire. Yes, yes, yes,” Hughes said. “But at what cost? And where are we robbing Peter to pay Paul?”

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