If athletic programs are to continue at Watertown Middle School throughout the year, the district must find an additional $31,000 for salaries, transportation, supplies, and fees, said athletic director Michael Lahiff.
At School Committee meeting on Monday night, Lahiff told the board that, even if 100 percent of student activities fees and bus fees went to athletics, it still wouldn't be enough to cover the estimated $79,920 cost for middle school sports programs.
"If we can't find the money, there will be significant cuts to the school's athletic programs," Lahiff said. "Right now, our philosophy for using the funds we have is just to keep afloat."
Lahiff said changes had been made to address the budget gap. Middle school volleyball has been canceled, as has fall cheerleading. The school's hockey team has gone down to 12 games this season.
"We're trying to make adjustments rather than cutting," Lahiff said. "But there's a real possibility that we could do fall and winter sports and come spring there's no money left."
Lahiff's report comes on the heels of the news that Watertown opted out of Race to the Top funding, after the district's teachers union refused to sign a pledge to measure teacher performance. The union and the town are still in negotiations regarding a contract for the 2010-2011 school year.
Ann Koufman-Frederick, the district's superintendent, said that Race to the Top funding could have been used to plug the hole in the middle school sports budget.
"This is just one of the areas where we can feel the loss of that option," Koufman-Frederick said. "Right now, the district is $500,000 short of level funding. We're hurting."
Lahiff and the school committee members discussed possible solutions to the funding problem, including making some sports practice-only to eliminate game-associated fees, reducing the number of athletic coaches, or limiting the number of spaces on teams.
"We have some sports, like girl's field hockey and boy's football, where the interest is very high, and overall we have so many students that want to participate in athletics," Lahiff said. "Especially at that age, I don't want to eliminate coaches if I don't have to, and you never want to turn a kid away."
The issue will be discussed at the next meeting of the budget and finance subcommittee, said committee chairman Tony Paolillo.
"Middle school is a very difficult age for kids," said school committee member Christopher Beach. "We need to help kids build a foundation for participation in activities that keep them off the streets and out of trouble. Cutting off the good work athletics does in this endeavor by not funding middle school sports would be the wrong thing to do."
The next school committee meeting will take place October 18.
Sarah Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.