Addressing a backlash against the Glen Rock Board of Education’s decision to consider dropping six Glen Rock Middle School sports programs, BOE President Bryon Torsiello told Banana Tree News in a telephone interview Thursday that dropping the sports is something the board has put on the table as it tries to put together what he called a “challenging’’ school budget for 2017-18. He added that all discussions to this point have been preliminary, and not final.
“There was some discussion, looking at redundant sports only,’’ Torsiello said, identifying the sports as boys and girls soccer, boys and girls basketball, and baseball and softball. “But the decision doesn’t necessarily make it final.’’
Many parents had expressed dismay at the decision to drop the sports on social media. At the same time Torsiello was conducting the interview, Schools Superintendent Paula Valenti emailed a letter to parents of students in Glen Rock Middle School, in which she explained that the board’s budget discussions to this point – including the dropping of middle school sports – is preliminary. In the letter, the word “preliminary’’ was italicized on every reference. Valenti’s letter was also posted on the Glen Rock schools website.
Torsiello, who is in his second year on the board and who was chosen to be president at last month’s reorganization meeting, said the budget needs to be finalized by mid-March, and all options are being considered at this point.
“This year, moreso than years in the past, this budget is a lot more challenging,’’ Torsiello said.
Asked why the budget would be more challenging than in past years, Torsiello mentioned increased expenses the district faces, including increased healthcare costs for employees. He did not mention the move by the district two years ago to go to an All-Day Kindergarten, a decision that was made before he was on the board.
The decision to add All-Day Kindergarten had been a contentious issue. Many borough residents opposed the move, and the board had been divided as to whether to go through with it. At the same time, the board was considering adding lights to the football field, a move which had been considered likely to be approved. But after the initial vote to add the All-Day Kindergarten was tabled for a year, the vote to add the lights failed. Shortly afterward, in a surprise move that was not listed on the meeting agenda, the board decided to vote again on the lights and All-Day Kindergarten. Both passed.
Torsiello said in its current budget discussions, the board has to determine which upcoming objectives as mentioned in the board’s five-year plan must be added and which are optional. Of those that must be added, Torsiello said the board must determine which ones are immediate and which can be delayed.
One of the things that has been discussed is the initiative to provide laptops for all high school students, which, according to the five-year plan was supposed to be included in the 2017-18 budget. Torsiello admitted delaying that initiative is one of the things the board is considering.
“The challenge is going to be what the tax rate adjustment will be,’’ he said. “We’re trying to be as fiscally responsible as we can.’’
The idea of cutting middle school sports was brought up and voted on at the board’s Feb. 13 meeting. In considering that option, Torsiello said the board looked only at sports that are already offered by the borough in its recreational and travel sports leagues. Volleyball, Cross Country and Track and Field, which are not offered through the town, would not be cut, he said.
Torsiello would not say how much money would be saved by eliminating the six sports. Nor could he say how much of the cost of sports at the middle school is offset by the activity fees that parents pay when their children play sports or take part in other extra-curricular activities, like the middle school play or any after-school clubs. That information, he said, will be discussed at Board of Education meetings, and he said two additional meetings to discuss the budget have been scheduled. The first is Saturday, Feb. 25, at 8 a.m., and the second is Wednesday, Mar. 8, at 7 p.m. The public is welcome to attend both meetings and will be able to ask questions and make comments at those meetings, he said.
The board had been scheduled to discuss the activity fee – whether to keep or eliminate it, or raise or lower it – at its Feb. 13 meeting. But Torsiello said the meeting ran long, many other items were discussed, and the discussion on the activity fee was put off to the Feb. 25 meeting. He said the idea of an early morning meeting that day was that the board members would be able to stay as long as necessary to work on the budget.
In addition, there are regularly scheduled BOE meetings Feb. 27 and Mar. 6, both at 8 p.m., where the budget will again be discussed, and where the public again will be able to ask questions and make comments. The budget will likely be finalized at the regular meeting Mar. 13, he said, though that was not set in stone.