I would not want to be a freshman or sophomore student-athlete at Nokomis Regional High School in Newport these days.
A significant portion of that school’s sports program has fallen victim to the budget ax this week after RSU 19 voters opted not to approve a $3.6 million loan to bail out the financially strapped school system at Tuesday’s elections.
Current superintendent of schools Greg Potter, who began in that capacity on July 1, started implementing $750,000 in systemwide cuts Wednesday in the aftermath of the vote. Those follow $830,000 in cuts previously administered to help address costs stemming from what has been described as the mishandling of previous budgets.
Subvarsity and middle school sports programs were hard hit, as well as elements of the music program, field trips, supplies and equipment and 5½ fulltime-equivalent support staff positions.
And varsity teams will have to find their own way to road games for the rest of the school year, at least, as transportation to games was cut.
That these are the items slashed from the budget reflects the fact that 83 percent of RSU 19’s budget is made up of salaries, benefits and mandatory costs that must be paid.
A typical high school sports department represents approximately two percent of an overall school budget.
One reaction to the crisis is to label the 3,853 voters who opted to turn down the loan request as short sighted, but I’m not going to blame people who figured they already had paid their taxes once and shouldn’t have to pay again for mistakes made by administrators they had paid big bucks to make good decisions on their behalf.
And let’s face it, most taxpayers in these parts are tapped out just trying to keep pace with their everyday bills without having to take on additional debt that never should have accrued in the first place.
While the balloting was close, with just a 353-vote margin of victory for those against approving the loan, seven of the eight communities in RSU 19 voted against the proposal.
The impact of the cuts on the competitiveness of the Nokomis athletic program will be considerable and perhaps long-standing, even if they are alleviated in the coming months or year by voter approval of a smaller loan request that surely will be forthcoming.
A major target of the cuts are the middle-school and subvarsity teams that not only develop varsity standouts of the future but also provide a primary co-curricular option for hundreds of other students. Once those youngsters find something else good or bad to do with their free time they’re unlikely to return to sports in a year or two.
Perhaps it’s time to get creative.
Potter has indicated that the RSU would not allow parents or others to coach JV teams on a volunteer basis. But developing the best intramural program possible, private fundraising efforts and pay-for-play concepts are topics worthy of discussion in an effort to help sustain as many athletic options as possible in the short term.
I’ve believed for a few years now that youth athletics in the United States eventually will evolve from its current school-based system into a European model in which young athletes play for local club teams.
No doubt the educational system will challenge that possibility as there are studies that suggest a positive correlation between participating in co-curricular activities and academic success.
But amid trying economic times, some day the taxpayers may make that decision for them.