Middle-school sports a budget-cut victim

by Chris Hunt

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education is expected to vote to cut middle-school athletics for the 2011-12 school year.

The decision to drop middle school sports was one of many recommendations CMS officials presented to the board at a Jan. 11 budget meeting. CMS is challenged with shedding an estimated $100 million to $125 million from its operating budget, and the proposal would save $399,500 from the athletics department.

“Middle-school sports are gone,” said Joe White, board member at-large. “Everyone knows I’m not pleased that middle-school sports will die during my legacy, but we couldn’t find a way to save it.”

The fate of middle-school athletics will be made official by May 10, when the board is expected to approve CMS’ 2011-12 budget. Last year, the board voted to cut middle-school sports from the current budget, but the program survived after CMS was able to find funding.

This year, CMS charges an extra $1 at varsity games and instituted a “pay-to-play” policy of $50 per middle-school athlete and $100 per high-school athlete in each sport, raising approximately $400,000. The pay-to-play program will continue in high school next year, but that money will go toward funding high-school sports.

“The athletics department has been asked to take a 10-percent budget cut so we know we won’t have enough money to run both high-school and middle-school athletics,” CMS athletics director Vicki Hamilton said. “The recommendation to the board will be that middle-school athletics be on the table to be eliminated next school year.”

Hamilton and White said they hope a program will be created in coming months, in conjunction with local youth athletic associations, to take advantage of the remaining middle-school athletic department assets – such as equipment and facilities. Renting middle-school fields and gyms is one of the many options under consideration.

“We’ve had middle-school sports for close to 40 years, and now it’s time to find some alternative sports programs to fill the community’s need,” said Hamilton. “We will take a careful look at our schools’ resources and the athletic fields and roll out a plan with regards to the local youth athletic programs in our communities. This is new territory, so we will try to use the best thinking in a difficult, tragic situation to find a way to support our communities.”

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