The Riverside-Brookfield High School water polo and math teams face elimination due to budget cuts that are necessary in the wake of the failed April 5 referendum. But at the May 17 school board meeting, some parents asked board members to save those teams.
It was the second consecutive school board meeting at which water polo parents spoke up during the public comment portion of the meeting.
Water polo advocates said that the school board would be shortsighted to eliminate water polo after spending the money just a couple of years ago to build a large pool designed to accommodate water polo.
“The community is paying right now for a pool that is supposed to include water polo,” said Laurie Risley, whose son Graham swam and played water polo for RBHS. “The reason the pool added 15 yards is because we finally promised that it would be a two-sport pool.”
The water polo parents submitted to the school board petitions signed by 94 people, asking that water polo be preserved.
“Our beautiful new pool was built specifically to accommodate water polo,” said Caryl Moon, the mother of a water polo player and the wife of school board member Dan Moon, who submitted the petitions.
Moon said that 40 students played water polo at the school this year. She said the sport attracts a wide range of athletes, not just swimmers, and said that it is the only contact sport for girls at RBHS.
Eliminating water polo is projected to save $21,602. Other cuts to the athletic program, mostly reductions in the number of assistant coaches, are projected to save $140,209. Water polo is the only sport scheduled for elimination next year.
Dan Somers complained that water polo will take a disproportionate hit saying that while water polo accounts for only 3 percent of the athletic budget, its elimination makes up 12 percent of the cuts to the athletic program.
Athletic Director Art Ostrow said that water polo wasn’t “targeted” for elimination. Rather, he said, a variety of factors played into the decision.
Water polo was the last varsity sport added at the school eight years ago. It’s a non-conference sport and elimination of both the boys and girls teams wouldn’t have an adverse effect as far as Title IX rules were concerned.
“It’s a non-conference sport and has the least amount of impact on our kids,” Ostrow said. “I don’t want to cut anything.”
Olga Andrulis asked that the math team be preserved as a “pay-to-play” activity. She said eliminating the math team would save only $2,926. With 34 team members, that would amount to less than $90 a person, she said.
Andrulis said that she had taken a survey of the parents of math team members, who indicated they would be willing to pay to keep the team intact.
“Several parents are even willing to pay a little extra to cover students who may not be able to afford the cost,” Andrulis said.
District 208 school board President Matt Sinde responded positively to the idea, but said that details need to be worked out.
“Me, as a board member, would have no issue with it if it is revenue-neutral,” Sinde said.
District 208 Interim Superintendent David Bonnette said that school needs to be careful about having parents fund teams and activities. Parents would not pay coaches directly. All money raised would be funneled through the school.
“Any payment will be consistent with our contract, and that will be done by the school district,” Bonnette said. “We’re not going to have an outside group circumventing the contract and personnel law.”
Pay-to-play for sports, which RBHS calls “pay to participate” since payment does not insure playing time, will almost certainly be in effect, in some form, at the school next year. The question is how much the fee to be on a team will be.
In December, the school board tentatively agreed to implement pay-to-play for sports at RBHS if the referendum was defeated. The plan is to charge athletes $100 for the first sport they join. Joining additional teams would cost $50. Annual pay-to-play fees would be capped at $150 for an individual and at $300 for a family. Pay-to-play fees under this plan are projected to raise about $43,000 next year.
New board member John Keen said at the meeting that he favors a higher pay-to-play fee in order to more fully fund sports.
“I propose we increase this dramatically,” said Keen who then suggested a pay-to-play fee of $300. “We need to look at a different approach. Parents and students have a choice if they want to participate in clubs and sports.”
Keen said that he wants to increase athletic fees to save sports at RB.
Sinde said that he prefers pay-to-play to other fundraising techniques used by RBHS athletic teams.
“I don’t mind pay-to-play,” Sinde said. “I don’t want to sell cookie dough.”
Bob Uphues contributed to this report.