The threat of schools being unable to afford to offer any sports programs next school year – as they wrangle with a projected $7.7 million deficit in the upcoming fiscal year that runs from July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020 – has caused an explosion of public outrage looking for solutions to the serious problem.
Mayor Joseph Solomon alluded to a possible solution – at least a “work in progress” towards one – during an interview on Wednesday morning, albeit an idea that resides, he admits, far outside the box.
“I’ve spoken to some other government officials in the city and we’re looking at other options – whether it be within the school budget our outside the school budget,” he said. “I just want to make sure that our students and the parents are aware that we value the programs and we know the importance of the programs, and it’s our plan to keep those programs in place.”
What Solomon presented, in a very rough draft, proposal form at least, is a concept where the city would utilize its own resources – perhaps through the city’s parks and recreation department, which was split into its own entity during this year’s budget process – to take over maintenance of the various sporting facilities that now are under the school’s purview.
“I think that all of us, both the city council and me as the mayor, are very aware of it and we will be approaching it either by funding or a hybrid approach,” he said. “There’s not going to be any adverse possession involved, but maybe we’ll be able to extend our services to mitigate costs in certain areas… I’ve got X thousands of dollars-worth of lawn and maintenance equipment and fertilizers, maybe I could consolidate those assets and have duties performed on the facilities, which eliminates an expense on that side.”
Solomon said he had “explored other communities, both in state and out of state” who approach funding school sports “a little differently,” but he did not elaborate on which communities those were or how their operations differ.
Solomon had previously said through a press release that he was open to meeting with the school department in mediation to address their financial situation for the upcoming year. He also said that he could not commit to providing more funding before the schools began sitting down with the city for those mediation sessions. However, no such sessions have been scheduled at this time.
“Until I speak to the schools, I can’t predict any deal with the schools,” he said. “But I can tell you that from the city side, we’re going to do even more for our students and the athletic programs than what was not in our control in the past.”
Superintendent Philip Thornton said on Wednesday that he’d have to consult with the school department’s legal counsel on if such a proposal was possible or even allowable under local and state law. He also stressed that, should any funding come in from the city, it was the school committee’s sole authority to choose how that funding is spent.
“If any funds do come into the budget the school committee has to decide what is put back first to offset the deficit,” he said.
During Monday night’s budget meeting, it was revealed that to fully fund the sports program would require about $1.3 million. The schools have about $4.4 million in unfunded, contractual pay raises for teachers and other school staff to pay for, likely before any other proposed cuts to programming could be restored.