School budget issues may be particularly acute in 2017, but many athletic programs across Connecticut have dealt with flat funding for many years. And no district knows exactly how much money they will get from the state this year.
Governor Dannel Malloy has said he may use his powers under executive order to change the way Education Cost Sharing funding is distributed. Many, particularly suburban districts may see millions of dollars removed from their budgets for the school year that begins later this month.
But these cuts from the state might have little effect on sports programs. Because of previously flat funding, they’ve long relied on fundraising, pay-to-play models, or program-cutting to survive.
Xavier Bass, a football player at Central Connecticut State University, has the distinction of being the first-ever Division I signee from Bridgeport’s Warren Harding High School.
“I didn’t come from money,” Bass said. “I played sports because it kept me off the streets. It kept me focused on what I was supposed to do. I couldn’t imagine that the kids would have to go through something like this now.”
Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim said his district can’t afford pay-to-play to fund its budget -- not with 23,000 kids, almost 90 percent of whom receive free and reduced lunch.
“In an urban district like Bridgeport,” Ganim said, “the largest school district in the state where 53 languages or more are spoken in the classroom, we need to find resources so that we never put our children in the position where they can’t participate in an extracurricular activity -- a sports program -- because they don’t have the money.”
Bass, the former Harding student-athlete, might not have played there if he had to pay a fee.
The Town of Somers already runs pay-to-play to save it from cutting athletic programs. Kids pay a participation fee of $25 per sport with a family cap of $100 per season.
Alan Walker, athletic director at Somers High School, said his school’s booster club plays a big part in raising money there.
“They run our concession during basketball seasons,” Walker said. “They run a comedy night. We have an outdoor pancake breakfast in the fall. They just purchased scoreboards for three of our fields, which is a pretty nice thing.”
What else could districts do? Middle school sports are often the first to fall under the knife. But many towns have already been there, done that: Bridgeport lost every program but basketball in its 20 middle schools and Somers got rid of its middle school sports back in 2005.