No more sports in Little Miami?

HAMILTON TWP. — A vote by the Little Miami Board of Education Tuesday night, March 23, could mean the end of the district’s athletic program.

In a dramatic vote before hundreds of parents, students, coaches and other school staff members, the board voted 3-2 against a pay-to-participate program for individual sports recommended by an athletic task force.

Repeated levy failures have led to a projected $10 million deficit in the district, forcing school officials to make further cuts to staff and academic offerings.

To have a self-sustaining athletic program, the parent-led task force recommended the district charge high school athletes $535 and junior high athletes $480 for each sport. It also recommended a fundraising program by the booster clubs to raise money for athletes who couldn’t afford the fee.

Voting against the pay-to-play option was board President Kym Dunbar, Vice President Mary Beth Hamburg and member Stephanie Black. Voting in favor of the measure were Mike Cremeans and Bobbie Grice.

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The board said it would consider other pay-to-play options before making a final decision to not have sports programs in the district. It's not clear when that decision will be made.

Dunbar and others questioned whether the amount the task force recommended would be able to sustain each sport without subsidies from the district’s general fund.

“I don’t think I have enough information with the correct data,” Dunbar said. “There’s some expenses missing... I don’t think that’s the right number.”

Hamburg said she was dubious that the community that has rejected the past four levy proposals will rally to support fundraisers for athletics.

“We never see this kind of turnout when we’re trying to generate interest in the levies,” Hamburg said to the standing-room-only crowd. “The bottom line for me is making sure this district is not taking away any educational funds to supplement extracurriculars.”

Cremeans said education is more than what happens in the classroom.

“If we take away sports, we’re taking away part of that child’s education,” he said.

Grice agreed, stating that you have to consider “everything” in providing a student’s education.

“If you can really make that pay for everything... then I want to see sports in schools,” Grice said to task force members in attendance.

Before the vote, several parents and coaches made impassioned pleas to support the task force’s proposal.

Parent Danny Mullins related a personal story about listening to a recording of a Little Miami choir singing the school’s alma mater. He said in the background you can hear the crying of a baby, a future district student who was likely related to one of the choir members.

“I’d like to think that the opportunities are going to be there (for that future Little Miami student),” he said, “because it’s that far reaching.”

The district’s pay-to-play option was raised from $75 last year to $431 per sport this school year.

Other proposed changes

The vote followed a presentation by Superintendent Dan Bennett on proposed changes to academic programs and the school-day structure for the next school year.

Pending approval by the school board and a state oversight committee in August, changes could include:

• The high school will switch to a six-period day to accommodate staff reductions and absorb losses through attrition;

• high school and junior high class sizes will be set at 30 to 35 students; for the elementary, 28 to 30 students;

• The industrial arts program and reading initiatives will be cut from the high school;

• AP and honors classes may be cut depending on enrollment;

• Busing services could switch to a three-tier system to maintain personnel levels.

“We’re looking at everything we can do for this coming year,” Bennett said. “We want to be the best we can possibly be.”

The district will maintain the 24 credit-hour graduation requirement, but that could be reduced to the state minimum of 20 credit hours when the district falls into fiscal emergency in August. At that point, management decisions will be subject to final approval by a five-member state oversight committee.

School officials hope to pass two five-year tax issues on May 4. Voters will be asked to approve a 6.483-mill property tax and a 1 percent earnings tax for operating funds.

While passage of both issues will quicken the district’s financial recovery, the outcome will not prevent the state from having the final say in the decision-making process.

Contact this reporter at (513) 696-4542 or rwilson@coxohio.com.

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