CLARK, NJ — Students of Arthur L. Johnson High School in Clark appeared before the June 13 Board of Education meeting to express concerns about possible elimination of sports teams. Parents of student athletes in September also requested that teams not be cut from athletic line-ups. The district is struggling with a $2 million budget deficit.
Administrators say that no cuts have been made yet, but parents and students have expressed concerns that some sports might be more at risk than others. For example, parents on Facebook have said sports such as track and field and swimming might be the first to go.
One student at the meeting asked why a sport that costs so little such as track and field might be cut. Another student defended the swim team at the meeting by sharing their undefeated record and how it goes unnoticed. Parents pleaded that instead of cutting teams, that maybe the teams could just do with less.
Schools Superintendent Ed Grande expressed appreciation for students and parents taking the opportunity to speak their minds. He said that restricting cuts to the teaching staff was the utmost importance and that education is his first priority. No final decisions have been made yet, and he is working to find the best possible solutions so that students can still be able to participate in whichever sports they choose.
“We are currently examining various options, for example co-ops with other schools, in an attempt to minimize any needed athletic cuts and are always looking to offer our students as many programs as possible,” Grande told LocalSource in an email on June 23.
Several juniors have said that the elimination of their sport would end the dreams they have for college. Budget shortages have been the topic of Board of Education meetings throughout the school year. When Board of Education member Lorraine Aklonis was contacted by LocalSource, she declined the opportunity to comment on the matter. When Board of Education member Jill Curran was contacted by LocalSource, no response for comment was received prior to press time.
“We identified a significant budget issue and communicated it to the district in September,” said Board of Education member Robert Smorol in a phone interview on June 23. Smorol serves as chairman of the Board of Education’s Athletic Committee. “This occurred due to an increase in special education which requires us to send students out of district for $50,000 to $80,000. We as a board weren’t notified right away because we were in the process of establishing a business administrator at the time. We also lost revenue from Garwood and the combined losses led us to having to let go three teachers. We also had to cut our athletic budget by $200,000 to balance the budget before we submitted it to the state.”
The board is in the process of deciding what they will do about the four sports that are currently at risk of being cut.
“The four sports that will possibly be eliminated are cross country, golf, gymnastics and swimming,” Smorol said. “My daughter was on cross country so I understand how these students feel. It was a very emotional night when they spoke about how they would feel if their sports were cut. We will continue to dialogue and try to find creative solutions to this budget issue. Word got around that we were going to eliminate these sports which isn’t true. We really don’t want to eliminate them.”
Smorol also suggested ways for students to stay involved in the decision-making process and continue to make sure their voices are being heard.
“I recommended that students make an appointment with the athletic director to discuss any ideas they might have to come up with solutions,” he said. “Meanwhile the board will be involved and looking for alternatives to this issue.”