Cuts could hit school athletic program

The current middle school athletic program would be eliminated next year under the proposed budget being considered by the Board of Education.

The proposal isn’t sitting well with some members of the school board, who cited parent concern about the elimination of the interscholastic athletic program.

As it is now, each of the city’s three middle schools has 10 sports programs, including baseball, boys and girls basketball, softball, volleyball, soccer and track.

The three schools are part of the Tri-County League middle school interscholastic association and compete against other teams in the area and across the state. The entire program costs $98,763.

Next year, under the budget proposal submitted by the athletics committee, the middle schools would no longer be associated with the Tri-County League.

Peter Casey, director of athletics and head of the department’s budget committee, said there were several options considered to meet requested budget cuts.As part of the district’s budget process, committees are formed to come up with recommendations for each department. The athletics committee included parents, coaches, teachers and administrators.

Eliminating junior varsity and freshmen athletics at the high school level, or cutting some varsity sports were also considered, he said.

In the end, the committee decided to eliminate middle school interscholastic athletics, he said.

“It’s definitely a different program,” he said. “Obviously, the district has to come up with some kind of cost savings. Considering the circumstances, we’re faced with looking at an out-of-the-box approach.”

Under Superintendent Christopher Hottel’s proposed budget, the athletics budget is being cut by 4 percent, or $37,531.

A new middle school youth program would cost $46,232 and be funded by the savings from cutting the interscholastic program.

The new youth program would include athletic mentoring, involvement with community organizations and field trips to sporting events, according to the proposal. Students would be able to take part in the program two days a week.

One of the benefits of the new program, Casey said, would be that more students would be able to participate.

Last year, about 600 middle school students participated in interscholastic athletics. Another 659 students tried out, but did not make teams.

“We feel firmly that we will be adding to our student athlete participation numbers by subtracting some of the current programs and reallocating funds,” he said.

At Tuesday night’s budget meeting, school board members raised concerns about the proposal.

Board of Education President Tom Vaughan questioned the logic of adding an unknown program at the expense of an existing program.

“To me, cutting those sports and replacing them with an opaque program that hasn’t been analyzed does not seem to be an appropriate use of the process,” he said.

Board member Robert Hallowell said there are still a lot of unanswered questions about the proposal.

Board member Charlie Katsohis said he has received several e-mails from parents concerned about what exactly is being proposed.

There is a public hearing on the budget scheduled for Monday in the Nashua High School North lecture hall at 7 p.m.

Casey said “pay to play” was discussed by the committee, but was not considered a viable option.

Casey said the athletics department in past years has had to make cuts to its fixed costs, like transportation and was forced to look at cutting back on programs.

Even if the athletics budget was funded at the same level for next year or given more funding, the committee did not suggest reinstituting the interscholastic program.

The new league would allow middle school teams to compete with one another and other leagues, such as the Boys & Girls Club and parks and recreation teams.

Under those circumstances, Casey said it still might be possible for the middle schools to play schools outside of Nashua, including Manchester.

“Nothing would prohibit us from scheduling games with those schools,” he said. “Just because we’re not a member (of the Tri-County League) doesn’t mean we can’t play those schools.”

Casey said the proposal is still in the concept stages and that a middle school advisory committee will be created to discuss how to implement the new program.

Casey said he has had some response from parents, which has been mixed.

“Some people are adamantly against it, other people understand the state of affairs,” he said.