PATERSON, NJ - Paterson Public Schools is merging its two high school athletic director jobs into one position this year, but will not combine sports teams, officials said Wednesday night.

Gerald Glisson, who had been athletic director for Eastside High last year, will now oversee the sports programs for that school as well as for Kennedy High, state-appointed Schools Superintendent Donnie Evans announced Wednesday. James Fitzgerald, the former Kennedy athletic director, is moving into an administrative position overseeing one of the academies creating under the new restructuring put in place this year at Kennedy, officials said.
Earlier this year, there had been talk of the possibility of merging the entire Kennedy and Eastside athletic programs and school officials held a community forum in April to get public input on the controversial proposal.
Proponents said the sports merger would strengthen some the city's weaker programs, including football, would save money and allow the district to create new teams in sports that currently have none, like swimming. Opponents said sports consolidation would curtail opportunities for city students by limiting the number of varsity slots on competitive teams like basketball. They also said the merger would undermine the city's traditional competitive rivalry between Eastside and Kennedy.

With Kennedy reorganization this year, neither Eastside nor Kennedy will exist as a traditional high school. Instead both will simply be buildings that will house three or four separate academies. Students will be enrolled at the academies and not Eastside or Kennedy. Some officials saw this change as an opportunity to merge the ports teams because now all high school students in the city will have the choice of which team to play for. In theory, a student atttending an academy at the Kennedy can now opt to play sports for Eastside, and vice versa.
In recent months, Evans had said nothing in public about his plans for the sports programs. The announcement on the athletic director's merger, and his comments that the city would continue with two sets of teams, caught some board of education members off guard.
"I'm really kind of dumbfounded tonight that a decision has been made and a person has been put in place without us having a full discussion,'' said Commissioner Christopher Irving.
Irving argued that Evans should have engaged board members in more discussion about what to do with the sports program before making up his mind, especially after the district held its Community Forum back in the spring. "I feel like my time has been wasted,'' Irving said. "I feel like you just placated us.''
Evans said the future of the city's high school sports teams would remain an issue for discussion in the upcoming year. For 2011-12, the decision was made "instead of having two person in the lead, one person is in the lead,'' said Evans.
During Wednesday night's board of education workshop session, officials discussed the fact that $130,000 had been cut from the athletics budget. They asked Glisson about the impact of that reduction. Glisson said most of the money was saved by eliminating 17 assistant coaching positions at the two schools. None of the teams at the two schools - for boys and girls, varsity, junior varsity or freshmen - are being eliminated, Glisson said.
Commissioner Jonathan Hodges, who supports maintaining two sets of high school, said he hoped the district would use some of the extra $27 million it received from the state as a result of a Supreme Court ruling to invest in additional study halls and academic assistance for high school athletes, as well as for increasin the opportunities for students to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities.
Evans has not yet said exactly how the district plans to spend that $27 million.