Rhode Island

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Rhode Island School District Dumps All Sports as Part of Drastic Budget Cuts

10 Jul, 2019

By: Michael Popke
Measure Leaves the Door Open for Rec, Travel and League Sports to Fill Void for Students

In an effort to cut nearly $8 million from its 2020 budget, the Warwick (R.I.) School Committee unanimously voted to eliminate all sports programs in the district. The annual outlay for sports is only $1.3 million, so the district also dropped 10 teaching assistant positions, as well as funding for building improvements, mentoring, uniforms, equipment for schools and $420,000 for transportation costs.

“I never thought this day would ever come,” committee member David Testa told the Warwick Post after the vote. “This is not a spending problem. This is a funding problem. I’m embarrassed for my city.”

“Truly a dark day for the city,” added committee member Nathan Cornell. “It absolutely kills us to make these cuts. We’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. I wish these cuts weren’t happening. This is going to kill our school district and, in effect, it’s going to kill our city.”

While many districts threaten to slash sports as a bargaining chip of sorts, few follow through on that threat.

Count Jim Stringfellow, football coach at Toll Gate High School, among the initial skeptics. “I really didn’t think it was going to happen,” he told the Providence Journal after the committee’s vote . “I think it’s more of a ploy to get more money from the city. It stinks that they’re using it as a tool.”

“Thanks for ruining my senior year, and possibly my future,” one student testified at the meeting in which sports were cut.

Less than 24 hours after the committee’s decision — and on their first day of summer vacation — dozens of Warwick students took to City Hall to rally Mayor Joseph  Solomon to find a way to restore sports, according The Boston Globe.

“Solomon has maintained he will avoid ending school sports in the city, possibly by using the city budget to cover expenses,” the paper reported. “But [Warwick Schools Superintendent Philip] Thornton argues that would be illegal because the mayor’s office is not supposed to tell the school department how to spend money.”

Whether there will be a way to salvage funding for sports remains to be seen. However, rec programs in team sports, area running, cycling, swimming and triathlon clubs, local tennis associations and other similar programs may be able to position themselves to offer affordable alternatives to students and their parents, particularly if students are interested in being able to show potential college coaches their activities.

In a statement provided to the Providence Journal, Thornton wrote: “These very difficult cuts, including textbooks, teacher assistants, sports and clubs, come after having closed schools and having reduced staff in previous budget years. Warwick Schools are at a crossroads. More funding is needed for education in the city of Warwick.”

As The Globe noted, Warwick’s enrollment today stands at about 9,000 students — down from 19,000 students in the 1970s.

“It’s not just about sports,” School Committee Chairwoman Karen Bachus told the Warwick Beacon, emphasizing that a $1.3 million allocation for sports would not solve the problem. “It’s about academics, it’s about clubs, it’s about music, it’s about drama. It’s about student assistance counselors for kids who are suicidal and strung out and start to use drugs or get involved with gangs. It’s about a lot more than sports. Sports are very important, but it’s not just about sports. … They believe that their problem will go away if they take care of sports.”

A lack of funding for school athletics is far from Rhode Island’s only education woes. On June 25, The Boston Globe revealed details of a “scathing” report issued by Johns Hopkins University that outlines “a series of recurring, disturbing issues plaguing [Providence Schools], including arranged fights between female students that are promoted on social media, rodent traps stuck to students’ shoes and ceilings collapsing in classrooms. The conditions were so concerning that members of the review team said they were left in tears.”

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