School Committee debates raising sports fee

by Town Reminder

School Committee debates raising sports fee
FY12 budget proposal a 2.87 increase over last year

By Scott Feldman
Turley Publications Correspondent

SOUTH HADLEY – The South Hadley School Committee made a few minor alterations to Superintendent Gus Sayer’s budget proposal during its meeting on March 9.
The most notable changes that were made were to stop purchasing basic insurance coverage for athletics and to increase the amount of catastrophic injury insurance coverage the school system has from $500,000 to one million dollars. This change will save roughly $4,000, which will be added to the athletic budget.
School Committee Chairperson JoAnn Jordan felt this was a prudent decision because Massachusetts law requires everyone to have some form of health insurance anyway. In virtually every case, the medical expenses from injuries an athlete sustains are paid by his or her parent’s coverage.
Conversely, she wanted to make sure that the school had adequate coverage in the unlikely event of a student suffering a life-altering injury, such as dismemberment, during a sporting event. Jordan and the committee agreed that it was critical for the school be protected in the event of a disaster.
Both proposals were approved by a voted of 4-0-0 (Vice Chairperson Kathryn Mazur was absent).
The committee also discussed whether or not it should raise the student athletic participation fee from $75 to $100 in order to alleviate shortfalls in the athletic department.
Athletic Director Tad Desautels said that he was unable to increase his budget because of the economic times, but many teams need to purchase new safety equipment and uniforms.
Business Administrator Candice Walcazk estimated that increasing the participation fee would generate $13,000 of additional income for the department.
Everyone agreed that this would be a better way to generate money as opposed to cutting a sport.
“I think that [the] school committee is completely dedicated to the sports program and athletic department as a whole,” Jordan said. “We don’t want to eliminate any sport and we will be as creative as we can to prevent that.”

However, there was a debate between members of the School Committee on whether the fee increase was needed to avoid losing a sport.
Jordan noted that it had been 10 years since the participation fee has been increased and that South Hadley has a fairly low fee in comparison to surrounding schools and the extra revenue would be helpful.
On the other hand, Committee Member Edward Boisselle did not want to approve the fee increase unless it is absolutely necessary. Since the town and state budget picture is still murky, he felt it is would be prudent to wait and see if there were enough funds to keep all sports without raising fees.
Eventually, an agreement was reached to postpone the decision to increase the fees, but it is something that could be revisited shortly.
Other than those changes, the budget proposal was essentially the same as when Sayer first presented it to the committee last month. He is requesting a 2.87 percent funding increase from last year for a total budget of 19,332,641.
Boisselle reiterated a statement about the budget he made in February, saying that Sayer tried to keep a level-service budget, but extra expenses arose primarily due to the loss of nearly $600,000 in federal grant money.
Sayer did include some other potential budget cuts that could be included if circumstances are dire, such as releasing six paraprofessionals – that would bring the overall proposed increase down to 1.2 percent. He strongly recommended against these cuts because of the impact it will have on the school system.
“I also feel that as we make further cuts, they become more serious,” Sayer said. “These we can live with, but more cuts will have a negative impact on the quality of the schools.”
The School Committee is scheduled to have a special meeting to discuss any changes to the budget on March 16. It will vote whether or not to approve the proposal at its next regularly scheduled meeting on March 23.