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Passage of one dollar leads to potential funding for football program

With a touch of financial irony, voters at yesterday’s Winnisquam Regional School District meeting chose to approve a $1 measure to fund the football program, paving the way for the school board to transfer funds from other parts of the budget if the local booster club can’t foot the bill.

The issue, one of nine articles on the school district warrant, generated the loudest and longest buzz during the 3½-hour meeting, as residents weighed the benefits of football, compared with programs like art and music, with the costs and dangers of the sport.

In the end, a slightly amended article that targeted only the upcoming school year and focused on safety, not the viability of the sport, passed by a ballot vote of 80-66.

After an amendment to slice a 2 percent raise for faculty and staff failed, residents passed the initial budget committee’s recommendation of nearly $24.6 million for the district’s budget, which does not include any money appropriated through warrant articles.

The $1 payment to the football program follows an $18,000 price tag voted into the district’s budget last year. This time, though, the school board chose to essentially leave a dollar figure out, asking for just enough to allow it to potentially funnel money later that is already on the books.

The Friends of Winnisquam Football booster club is in charge of fundraising for the program but annually needs help from the community.

The budget committee did not recommend the appropriation. School board member Sean Goodwin, in a long prepared statement, said the $1 measure would serve as a litmus test for future evaluations on the program’s viability.

He also said that recent discussions on injuries in the sport, such as concussions, make the need for proper equipment, and thus increased funding, necessary.

Plus, Goodwin said, football adds a positive element to the overall school experience.

“This,” Goodwin said, “will benefit the student athletes who participate, the school district as a whole, which the football team represents, the Winnisquam community of all ages who attend their games and the rest of the Winnisquam athletic program.”

Tim Snow, president of the Friends of Winnisquam Football, thanked district officials for their votes supporting the program last year, adding that “sports and academics go hand in hand. . . .
And I don’t think anything the school board is doing is back door. . . . It’s an up-front approach, not an increase. The money would come from the existing budget.”

Others saw the issue differently, questioning football’s importance, accusing the board of seeking too much freedom to spend and wondering why subjects like music were being penalized in the name of sports.

David Court of Northfield spoke at the microphone more than once, seemingly irritated by the board’s insistence on approving the appropriation.

“Every year I’ve spoken against this methodology, and a number of citizens have spoken against this methodology and the football program,” said Court, a local businessman. “We have said time after time that it is not appropriate for a school system of this size to have a football team. It is a very expensive program.

“I have never had anyone explain to me what this has to do with education,” Court continued. “I understand sports, I played sports, I have seen the benefit in my own social and physical output, but I do not think that it helps my ability to make a living or to be a good citizen. When the game is over, it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t mean anything. I am firmly against inter-school sports in high school, and I will not contribute tax money to it.”

Valerie Kehr of Northfield, who has two children in the Winnisquam Regional High band and choir, became emotional, her voice cracking, when speaking about the emphasis she sees placed on football at the expense of other activities.

“That one dollar is a blank check for the school board to do whatever it chooses, however how much money it wants to pull away from existing educational programs,” Kehr said. “I want to express my disappointment again that the focus is on athletics. The music department, the arts do not receive this attention, and it has proven educational benefits.”

Both Court and Kehr received applause before they finished on the losing side by 14 votes.

Elsewhere, a PowerPoint presentation showed that the proposed budget sought an additional $451,648 over last year, a 2 percent increase; dental and health insurance represented the highest increase at $274,000; and the elimination of bonus payments meant a $189,373 decrease.

Before voters chose not to support an amendment that would have eliminated a 2 percent raise for faculty and staff, Barb Foster went to bat for the district’s teachers.

“If we’re not going to pay,” Foster said, “we’re not going to be able to hold onto them.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@
cmonitor.com
or on Twitter
@rayduckler
.)

This is wrong on so many levels. "as residents weighed the benefits of football, compared with programs like art and music, with the costs and dangers of the sport." Ahh yes, the old, pitting Arts and Athletics against each other strategy. The truth is that students who participate in either Arts or Athletics are more likely to do better in school, stay in school, stay out of trouble, etc. We should not be forced to choose which of these opportunities we will provide for our youth. And what happens when the music program can no longer afford to fund a marching/pep band/color guard for the football games? The football parents will be up in arms and say, "Hey, where did your support for our football team go?" Will the school be as likely to float some cash their way so that they can continue to support the team? And is it really fair to be able to divert monies from any part of the school budget towards the football program? Can we take from the special ed. coffers to outfit our children with the necessary equipment to keep them safe while playing this increasingly dangerous sport? This is a bad deal any way you look at it.

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