CLARK,NJ – During the June 13 Clark Board of Education meeting, numerous student-athletes and parents approached the podium to request their teams not be cut from the line up of athletic programs at Arthur L. Johnson High School in September. The district is struggling to close an almost two million dollar budget deficit.
Despite the explanation of budget restrictions and administrators saying that no cuts have been made to any teams yet, students struggled to understand why their sports might be in danger before others.
One student struggled with why the cross-country team that costs so little to operate, would be so easily cast aside. “Why is it fair to cut a team that spends the least amount of money and contributes the least amount of debt to the school?” asked ALJ Student Tyler Moreira.
In continuing his thoughts Moreira expressed concern for the lack of awareness brought to the successes of one of the teams. “Our swim team has been undefeated for four consecutive years and we are approaching our 40 straight win this season. However nobody knows this because this team is disregarded. I am disappointed because the teams I am a part of are so discriminated against and unrecognized by the school that the board would like to remove them from our school.”
An ALJ parent suggested that instead of cutting teams, perhaps all the teams could do with less. “It makes no sense to me why there are five or six coaches for the football team and why some of that money cannot be deferred to the cross-county team,” said Jennifer Gallo.
Superintendent Ed Grande congratulated students for getting up ad speaking their mind, recognizing it is not easy to do in the setting of a public meeting. “It’s important to have a voice at your age and to advocate for what you believe in,” said Grande.
To set context Grande reminded students that restricting the cuts to teaching staff was of the utmost importance and that the education of the district’s pupils was the first priority. According to Grande, no final decisions have been made about sports programs.
“Myself and Mr. Kalikas met several times to review different programs and come up with potential cuts and right now we are still in discussions,” said Grande. “Coops and such are things we are still exploring. Please know that any decisions we have to make are difficult for us and it is not because we don’t value the sports or your hard work whether in the pool or on the track, but these are decisions we have to make for the educational best interest of the student s of the district.”
Several ALJ Juniors saw the disappearance of their teams as the end of a dream they had for college. “Not continuing these sports that we have dedicated years to is not only affecting our future in terms of college but it also crushes our sprit. For a school district that talks about inspiring greatness, how are you inspiring us by taking away sports we love and succeed at?” said Josh Fabrizzio.
A fellow Junior was feeling the opportunity to compete in college slip away too. “I am looking to run in college, cutting this program is going to decrease the chance I have of running in college because I need to decrease my times to make it in certain colleges. So cutting the program affects my future not just in high school but on the college level too,” said Lindsey Hofschneider.
In an unexpected rally of support, a 2010 ALJ Alumni who happened to be at the meeting for the swearing in of her sister as next school year’s Student Board member decided to speak up about her real world experience.
Aya Elsekhely shared that she had been recruited from ALJ upon graduation to run at NJIT. “Hearing about these cross-country budget cuts is basically not giving students an opportunity to run at the collegiate level and without that I wouldn’t be where I am today because it shaped me. If I didn’t have the opportunity to run at ALJ I would not have been recruited and gotten the scholarship that helped me at NJIT,” said Elsekhely. In closing her comments, she implored the Board and Administrators to consider that more students are recruited for Track and Field than football at the college level.
According to BOE member and Chair of the BOE’s Athletics Committee, Bob Smorol nothing has been finalized in terms of cutting teams for the next school year. Smorol recognized the strife students are feeling about the possible cuts and also recognized that Grande and Kalikas have been asked to make some difficult decisions from a budget standpoint.
Smorol also illuminated for the ALJ students and the rest of the community how the budget process works. He explained that the day to day decisions about what to cut are not actually made by the BOE. “The Board does not make decisions in terms of what sports are cut, we leave those decisions up to Mr. Grande and Mr. Kalikas in terms of how to get to a number and what they think is the best way to do it,” said Smorol in addressing the audience.
Smorol encouraged students to take an active role and request a sit-down meeting with Grande and Kalikas so they can enlighten students as to the challenges and perhaps together with the students, they can get to some solutions for the challenges.
“We as a Board support athletics, it is painful for all of us to look at this and say we may have to eliminate some sports programs, but we are looking at some creative solutions so we might be able to salvage these teams,” said Smorol in a phone interview after the meeting.
Budgetary shortfalls have been the topic of conversation in BOE meetings throughout the school year. Board member Tom Lewis highlighted them again during this meeting too. “I want to make everyone aware how difficult this year has been. We are at a two million dollar deficit with a two percent cap. I would be remise if I didn’t thanks Mr. Grande for his work and diligence to keep our elementary schools intact without any loss of teachers as well as the Kumpf,” said Lewis. “It’s a continuous effort, by no means is tonight the conclusion of our financial situation but most importantly we want to deliver the best education in Clark.
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