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Manchester school board to hear sports cuts possibilities

New Hampshire Union Leader

September 09. 2012 10:27PM

MANCHESTER - Superintendent of Schools Tom Brennan is expected to make recommendations tonight to School Board members regarding reductions to district sports programs.

The Manchester School Board meets at 7 p.m. tonight in City Hall.

As previously reported, Brennan's proposal would eliminate five of eight middle school sports and some high school junior varsity and freshman programs, freeing up nearly $189,000 to add staff and alleviate some of the overcrowding issues in city schools. The sports potentially in jeopardy of being cut are middle school basketball, track and coed volleyball. Junior varsity programs in high school basketball, softball, spirit, baseball and freshman basketball are also on the list.

'That is on the table as a talking point,' said Brennan on Friday, when asked whether he would be bringing the cuts forward for discussion with School Board members, as well as the Athletics and Extra-Curricular Activities Committee meeting tonight (5:30 p.m., City Hall).

Three years ago, ice hockey, wrestling and skiing were on the verge of being eliminated before school board members opted to keep the sports in play.

Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas has voiced his opposition in recent weeks to cutting some athletic programs to help financially-strapped local schools. Gatsas, as chairman of the city school board, said he would vote against the cuts that Brennan has outlined.

'I have always been opposed to cuts in athletics and my position has not changed,' said Gatsas.

Brennan has pointed to the potential reductions in sports as a way to free up funds for teachers, which would ease some of the overcrowding issues this school year. Teaching staff reductions, and the class size issues the moves created, drew complaints from parents at the start of the school year. Two math classes at Hillside Middle School had more than 40 students, until Brennan called in a substitute teacher, allowing him to break the two sections of students into three.

The class size issue has also met with concern from two communities who send students to attend high school in the Queen City. The Hooksett school board has voted to give Manchester schools 180 days to remedy classroom overcrowding or face a breach of the high school assignment contract, while the Candia school board has met with its lawyer to review the town's options if Manchester does not address the problem soon.

Manchester Teachers Association President Ben Dick feels Brennan's proposal is fair.

'We want the most well-rounded education for our kids as humanly possible, but I think the reductions he has proposed are fair,' said Dick. 'They are not ideal but none of this is ideal. Part of the budget process was to reduce extra-curricular funding by a third, but nobody was hemming and hawing about that, but they are hemming and hawing about eliminating some junior varsity and middle school sports. If he can make reductions and bring back three to four teachers, it will help.'

The recommended cuts are expected to include reductions of $70,000 to the middle school basketball program, and $33,237 to the freshman basketball program. Another $28,452 in reductions could come from junior varsity basketball, and $18,872 from the middle school track program.

New Hampshire Union Leader reporter Bill Smith contributed to this report.

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