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Hopkinton School District to help pay for school football team

  • Hopkinton residents listen as the Hopkinton School District’s proposed budget is described during the district town meeting Saturday morning. Caitlin AndrewsMonitor staff

  • Hopkinton School Board Chairman Matt Cairns (center) speaks during the school district’s town meeting Saturday. Caitlin AndrewsMonitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 3/11/2017 10:44:53 PM

Hopkinton voters for the first time decided to help fund the school district’s fledgling football program in what proved to be the most spirited debate Saturday at the district’s town meeting.

Voters approved a $19.6 million operating budget, which included $7,000 for the program’s coaching salaries, transportation and referee fees, the first time the district has provided money for the sport since it was created as a junior varsity pilot program in 2014. The cooperative football program with Hillsboro-Deering High School rose to varsity level last year.

But after learning about some of the reductions the board made from the original budget, which was $300,000 higher and had included a $113,000 curriculum development coordinator, some residents wondered if the district’s priorities were in order.

“The question I have is whether anything was cut out of the athletics budget at the same time you were deciding not to hire a curriculum director, which would have benefited 100 percent of students,” resident Jen Ackerman said.

One resident pointed out that football was also a contentious item last year, with several residents speaking for and against an amendment that would have added $7,000 to the budget. That amendment ultimately failed.

But as school board member Dave Luneau pointed out, both the school board and the budget committee recognized the strong community support the program has as well as the challenges of creating this year’s budget. He also said the majority of the program’s costs, such as pads, helmets and cleats, are privately raised by parents.

It’s a burden resident Amy Higginbotham knows all too well. Her son plays on the team, and fundraising starts in the spring – in fact, their first event is on March 25. She understands why some people might be leery of helping fund the team.

“The tax rate in Hopkinton is really high, so I get it,” she said. “But they’re high because of what we provide in the town. We’re the number one school in the state and you get what you pay for.”

And parent Heather Cornell, whose son attends Hillsboro-Deering, said a major benefit of the program has been the camaraderie it instills between Hopkinton and Hillsboro-Deering students.

“When I went to school, Hopkinton was our rival,” she said. “Now the team’s like a family.”

Superintendent Steve Chamberlin added that the portions of the program the district does fund keeps the program transparent and safe. For example, paying the coaches’ salary means coaches can be held accountable as district employees.

And Luneau said the district does make cuts to athletics depending on the amount of interest in a particular sport. He said Nordic ski jumping and cheerleading ended because of a lack of interest and noted other factors, such as class size, can play a role in which sports the district offers. He also noted the $7,000 was relatively insignificant when compared to some of the other costs the district was facing this year.

Among the biggest was a projected maximum increase of 23.2 percent in health insurances costs, which the district was able to put a damper on by reopening negotiations with teachers. Voters approved the new three-year contract at the meeting, which school officials said will save the town about $274,000 next year in salaries and benefits.

The operating budget was passed as is, as were all other warrant articles. One article approved puts $100,000 into a general contingency fund to be used for unforeseen expenses.

The budget’s estimated tax increase is 57 cents per $1,000 assessed property value, about $114 on a $200,000 home.

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