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Maryvale board hears pleas to keep funding in place for athletics

Parents, students and teachers packed the Maryvale Board of Education meeting Monday night, as the district struggled to overcome a nearly $780,000 budget deficit which could force drastic cuts to extracurricular athletics and club offerings.

Even though the shortfall is more than three-quarters of a million dollars, most of those attending the meeting were concerned about the fate of $48,000 – the amount Maryvale is considering cutting from the athletics budget. Several people spoke out against the potential budget cuts, as some students held signs that said, “Save our spirit” and “No cheer, no spirit.”

“These (programs) give us an opportunity that we will not get again,” Matthew Grazcyk, freshman class president. “If you get rid of them, you don’t know what’s going to happen. What will our future be like? It will be horrible.”

The district is hoping a last-minute reprieve from the state will provide extra funding before the board is scheduled to adopt a proposed budget on April 7.

“The reason we’re here is not to cut things,” said Board of Education President Patrick Weisansal. “We cannot make the money appear from thin air. Nothing has been cut yet. We’re hoping we get a nice chunk of aid so we can keep as many of our programs as possible.”

The initial plan was to eliminate the modified sports program, but Athletic Director Stephen Griffin offered several other proposals to the board. Part of Griffin’s plan is to raise outside funds, through the community and a potential matching grant from Dick’s Sporting Goods, to help pay for athletic programs next year. He has started a campaign “Save Maryvale Sports” on the fund-raising site, with almost $2,700 raised of its $50,000 goal.

While eliminating modified sports is one option, Griffin also proposed cutting the junior varsity program and making modified for student-athletes grades 7-9, but that would require getting 10 other districts to agree to the same plan.

Griffin’s final proposal, and his preference, would be to eliminate varsity and JV cheerleading, modified boys and girls track, modified boys volleyball and coaching positions for bowling, wrestling, swimming and football.

But if Griffin’s optimistic plan works, the community will raise $10,000 to $20,000 to keep several of those programs intact anyway.

“This gives me the best opportunity to save some sports,” he said. “I’d rather go with trying to save five sports than 12 (modified) sports.”

After hearing the audience’s concerns, Superintendent Deborah Ziolkowski echoed their frustration and pointed the finger at the state, which has cut funding through the gap elimination adjustment program, mandated new curriculum initiatives like the Common Core and capped the amount of revenue a district can raise from taxes.

“This district has lost a lot because New York State does not fund education the way it should,” Ziolkowski said. “I don’t want to cut anything. It hurts kids. This is a terrible job that someone has to do.”