For Weymouth sports boosters, this spring’s town budget is the biggest game in town - one they say they’ll win only if $100,000 for high school athletics is written into the 2013 spending plan.
Strained finances have cut into school budgets across the south suburbs, but especially in Weymouth, where high school athletics gets no public financing. The town’s school budget has had no money for sports - except for coaches’ salaries - in three of the past four years. The program has been supported by fees, gate receipts, aggressive private fund-raising, and a standing gift account that athletic director Kevin Mackin said will run out this spring.
That account has provided about $100,000 of the sports programs’ $400,000 annual cost, Mackin said. Without an infusion of a similar amount of cash, he said he’s left with little choice except to cut the number of teams at Weymouth High School, raise fees that students pay to play, or both.
About 900 of the school’s roughly 2,000 students participate in 27 sports, he said.
“If we don’t get the money, we can’t offer the same services,’’ Mackin said. “We’d try to preserve what we can. I’m hoping we don’t get to that point.
“I think it would be a tragedy,’’ he added. “The value of these programs really can’t be overstated. [Students] learn accountability, work ethic, performing under pressure, and [the teams] generate a lot of pride within the high school and the community. The loss of that would truly be a loss of a big piece of the high school experience.’’
Parents and students are using those arguments - and the threat that families would turn to private schools or move from Weymouth - to try to persuade town officials to invest in the sports program.
A new group, the Weymouth Athletics Boosters Association, coalesced around the cause last month, naming parent Gustavo Perez as its president.
So far, the group has successfully lobbied the school administration to include $100,000 in the proposed $57.2 million school budget for fiscal 2013. The next step, according to Perez, is to convince the School Committee, mayor, and the Town Council that the funding is necessary.
The boosters packed a recent School Committee hearing on the budget and plan to keep up a steady flow of letters and e-mails to make their case before a scheduled March 8 vote.
After that, the mayor and Town Council will vote on a townwide spending plan, including the schools, with a final vote expected in the spring.
Some School Committee members and councilors already have expressed support for putting money in the budget for high school sports. But Perez said the association isn’t banking on an easy victory.
Weymouth has faced tough financial constraints for the past several years and numerous interests would love additional funding, he acknowledged.
“We recognize the existence of competing priorities, but have asked decision-makers to weigh the significant cost of not funding athletics compared to other initiatives,’’ Perez said.
“The strategy is to mobilize the sports community and overall community in Weymouth, to create awareness and educate people, and advocate,’’ he said. “We intend to keep the spotlight on this issue and to really hold our elected leaders accountable.’’
Interim school superintendent Matthew Ferron has included the money the association wants in his proposed fiscal 2013 budget. He said he wants to provide relief for parents who are fund-raising as well as paying student participation fees that start at $200 per sport and go up to $400 for hockey.
Parents’ booster groups also buy uniforms, hockey pucks, basketballs, baseballs, footballs, and other supplies, he said.
“It’s unrealistic to expect the level of support can continue in this climate, especially considering everybody else is looking for help as well - youth sports and Scouts, church groups and other school groups,’’ Ferron said. “This is a very generous community, [but] the community can only support so much.’’
But Ferron said he couldn’t guarantee the sports money will stay in the budget. That’s a political decision, he said, and one that depends in part on other demands and on available revenue.
Ferron’s budget proposal is some $3 million more than current spending.
The increase includes the sports money and about $787,000 for contractual obligations, for such things as longevity and step raises that are built into staff contracts - increases automatically paid for cumulative time on the job.
Ferron also has added money for increased energy and transportation costs and special education tuitions.
The budget proposal doesn’t include any negotiated pay increases for the system’s approximately 1,000 employees - about 530 of them teachers - who are represented by seven unions, he said. All of the contracts are in negotiation, or about to enter negotiation - and the potential impact on the budget is unknown, he said.
Ferron said his budget proposal includes no new programs or staffing, and no layoffs or reductions in staff.
In the end, he said, “we will work with the [budget] number, whatever it is. It’s up to me to make it work.’’
Perez, whose youngest son plays basketball and soccer at Weymouth High, said the boosters association will continue to work to have money in the budget for high school sports, and has reached out to parents with younger children.
“As a parent of kids who grew up playing Weymouth youth sports, I know these little kids aspire to compete in sports at the high school. We believe those sports need to be there, as they have been for thousands of other Weymouth High athletes preceding them,’’ he said.