BERLIN - Discussion on pay to play athletics in Berlin has begun.
The board of education at its meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 10 voted to refer the idea for the 2018-2019 budget year to the education resource committee for further research with a report due back to the board no later than its Jan. 18 meeting.
“We’re researching to see if its viable, if it’s not viable,” said Board of Education President Matthew Tencza.
The idea for pay to play was introduced earlier this year during discussions on the 2017-18 school budget, when the school district was facing a $1.4 million budget cut to the school’s $43.9 million status-quo request, meaning nothing was added nor removed from the previous year.
The school’s budget was ultimately cut only $900,000, after the Town Council decided to allocate $500,000 more to the schools in response to public outcry over the initial potential cut.
Members of the board were in favor of initiating the discussion as a means to arm themselves with information in preparation of more potential funding cuts from the state.
Board member Jake Fisher said last year, when the idea was initiated, the board had little idea what to do since they had little information on it.
“I just feel like it’s going to help us,” said Board member Julia Dennis, who suggested studying how other towns that may implement pay to play do so and if students on free and reduced lunch would still be required to pay.
Mark Sweitzer, a father of four member grader on the Berlin High School Hockey team, which began approximately 10 years ago and was subsidized only for the first three years and been pay to play since, spoke during the audience of citizens, wanting to make sure the board understands “what pay to play means.”
According Sweitzer, his senior son was the only one of 9 players his freshman year who were eligible, to play to actually play as a result of other families not wanting to pay.
According to Sweitzer, he pays just over $1,450 to the athletic department and just over $1,400 to other host schools, as the team is part of a co-op with Newington, Cromwell and Manchester. The team is only allowed one fundraiser through the Berlin Boosters, which is a policy that does not involve the board of education, he added.
“I’m afraid that’s what’s going to happen to these other programs if you make it pay to play, you’re going to lose players to other school systems,” said Sweitzer.
Jane Zagorski, who’s kids were unable to play sports as middle schoolers during the early 2000s when the board previously removed sports at the freshman and middle school level for a year due to budget constraints, asked the board to consider all options, such as theatre when trying to save budget funds. She said he children’s grades were better when they were in season, and that as a coach she wouldn’t want parents in her ear if a child on a team doesn’t get playing time despite paying a fee to play.
Tencza said the board will consider all options and the idea of forming committees of coaches, teachers and students.
Mayor Mark Kaczynski shared how he would hate to see pay to play happen, as his son played sports in high school, even amid a potential $7 million cut to the town and schools if no funding from the state is received.
He added in any event he looks forward to continuing budget discussions similar to this most recent year. The board and Superintendent of Schools David Erwin said they appreciated the nature of those talks.
It was unclear if all sports would be required to pay. In initial discussions from earlier in the year, the board said they would like to apply the police across all sports.
Tencza said the sports program is funded with approximately $970,000.
The next board of education meeting is on Oct. 23 at 7 p.m. at the Board of Education, 238 Kensington Rd.
Charles Paullin can be reached at 860-801-5074 or email@example.com.