, Gloucester, MA

January 22, 2013

Editorial Free cash for sports fees doesn't go far enough

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — The planned allocation of more than $1.7 million across various city departments to address 21 specific projects is indeed a good use of Gloucester’s whopping $4.8 million in surplus fiscal 2012 revenues is indeed a fitting use of those dollars.

Yes, Mayor Carolyn Kirk makes the case for keeping much of the so-called “free cash” money within the city’s stabilization fund — which will still be the case — to further secure the city’s bond rating. And there is a context to that, since it no doubt helps dive down the city’s interest rate when it comes to borrowing or capital projects.

But this past year’s hefty surplus, especially, has come through saved dollars that many justifiably argue should have gone to city and taxpayer services in the first place, through a form of under budgeting designed to build up a surplus in the first place. So steering $529,518 to the school system, $294,607 to the Department of Public Works, $132,000 to the Fire Department for a new hire and personnel training overtime and other amounts elsewhere.

Yet while allocating $75,000 toward the user fees paid by student-athletes and families to play sports at Gloucester High School and O’Maley Middle School, Mayor Carolyn Kirk has again focused a spotlight on the issue of charging fees for those programs in the first place. For the truth is, it’s time for the School Committee to once again consider underwriting the costs of these programs, which often provide students with the best life lessons in commitment and teamwork of perhaps any single progarms this or any other school district offers.

Realizing that, the boosters of the Gloucester Fishermen’s Athletic Association, organizers of the JJ Nicastro Foundation and others who provided money to ease the burden of student athletic fees deserve immense credit for doing so. And school officials say that no students are excluded from the chance to play with a GHS or O’Maley team is prohibited because his or her parents cannot pay the fees. But even those programs don’t go far enough.

The late Jim Munn – the legendary Gloucester track and running coach, writer and community activist who died in March 2011 — often advocated for making high school athletic programs a recognized part of the school curriculum. And there is a context to that; many prep schools require that students play on at least one team on some level, regardless of his or her ability, with sports’ life lessons in mind.

Until that goal becomes reality, Gloucester’s school district and others should recognize that athletics are not just a matter of fun and games.

They are, in fact, a significant part of students’ physical and especially social education. And they are programs that once again deserve the full funding they had received in decades past.