LEWISTOWN - In a last-minute vote on Thursday to raise the athletic participation fee from a recommended $75 per athlete to $135, the Mifflin County School Board was able to keep several junior high and one varsity sport from being cut next year.
Following impassioned pleas from members of junior high girls and boys soccer, junior high softball and varsity indoor winter track teams during the public comment period, the board adjourned to an executive session to discuss personnel issues.
Coming out of that session, the board heard from Athletic Director Matt Shoemaker, who said he had circulated an email earlier in the day with a proposal to raise the participation fee even further than the recommended $75 as a way to save the junior high and varsity indoor track teams for at least another year.
During the public comment period, the board heard from several concerned parents, coaches and game officials, all who were in support of keeping the teams, stating that cutting junior high sports in particular would hurt athletes' development as they continue on through the ranks to junior varsity and varsity levels.
Director of Secondary Education Vance Varner noted that athletics costs roughly $500,000 from the district's general fund budget. In an effort to cut into the district's $1.6 million budget deficit, he said athletics was asked to find a way to cut 10 percent of its spending, thus the recommendation to drop the sports.
Shoemaker said that by raising the fee to $135, a one-time cost no matter how many sports kids wish to participate in, would allow the teams to stay, along with the cost of shuttle buses that were scheduled to be dropped as well.
Another hot-button issue on Thursday was a recommendation to restructure the hearing and visually-impaired teacher positions to combine and hire a single dual-certified person for the newly combined position.
During the public comment period, the board heard several emotional pleas, mostly from parents of children affected by the move, to reconsider the recommendation, saying the move would be a detriment to their children's learning.
Following a lengthy discussion on the issue, the recommendation failed by a 5-4 margin. Voting against the recommendation were board members Beth Laughlin, Mary Lou Sigler, Annemarie Swineford, Dr. Ruth Armstrong and Kristen Sharp.
Votes on the teacher combination issue and the sports teams were both met with a large round of applause by the packed house that attended the meeting.
Due to the lateness of Thursday's meeting, a complete recap from the meeting's agenda items will appear in Saturday's edition of The Sentinel.