At a recent Board of Education meeting, Dennis Maroney asked to hear discussion around the possibility of completely cutting freshman and junior varsity athletics. At the meeting Maroney added the caveat that this was not necessarily a move he was in favor of, but that creative solutions might be necessary after hearing feedback from other town boards and committees that the Board of Education budget was too high. On Wednesday morning, Maroney made it clear that he is in fact in favor of this cut, as he formally recommended cutting the JV and Freshman teams. The recommendations including cuts of $59,770 for transportation, $26,450 for equipment, $23,785 for officials, and $152,510 in stipends, a total dollar amount of $262,515. Asked for the rationale being this cut, Maroney said, \u201cI think our budget is high and, to me, this is extracurricular. It\u2019s not mandatory to have a freshman sport or a jv sport,\u201d adding, \u201cI\u2019ve heard no other district has ever done this. Ridgefield cut five or six jv and freshman sports six years ago. They're in our DRG. They're in our conference. This is not something unheard of.\u201d Almost immediately, other board members voiced concerns and lack of support for the proposal. Michael Burke said, \u201cI can\u2019t possibly support those cuts. For the record, I have children that play freshman sports. I anticipate they may play JV in the future. But I promise you that if i didn\u2019t have children on those teams, having been a former freshman and JV athlete, I can\u2019t support those cuts.\u201d \u201cThose sports add tremendous value to the students, community, and the parents who are involved. While I understand the need to look at athletics, that\u2019s one thing, but based on what\u2019s in front of me now, I feel these cuts are ill advised and just can\u2019t be supported,\u201d he said. Jill McCammon added, \u201cI\u2019m willing the look \u00a0at the size of our athletic program and to make some decisions about whether we want a program that\u2019s just grown organically or whether we want to put some parameters around the size based on the combination of need and our financial realities. But I don\u2019t think we\u2019ve taken that look yet. I think a cut like this has tremendous community impact and we don\u2019t have the opportunity to work with the community or support managing it, so I cannot support this cut.\u201d Board Chairman Tara Ochman also spoke against the cuts, saying, \u201cwith all due respect to my fellow board member who I know has put a lot of time into this, this cut seems sensationalistic to me. I don\u2019t see a theory to support it.\u201d \u201cWe\u2019re not looking at all extracurriculars, we\u2019ve seem to have just honed in on sports, and I\u2019m concerned that doing it in this manner without a fully fleshed out conversation directly impacts kids. It directly impacts kids who, as this gets written about in the paper, will stress and will worry, our job is to manage responsibly,\u201d Ochman said. \u201cI know this a subject area you are interested in, and I absolutely appreciate what Mrs. McCammon said and we will have this discussion; this at this time seems not well thought out. \u00a0I know you want to look at this, but the timing is poor,\u201d she said. At this point, Maroney responded to what had been said and suggested there was some inconsistency in the approach to the teams as opposed to the proposed assistant athletic director, saying, \u201cThe principal part I struggle with is, you\u2019re saying you\u2019re OK to add an assistant athletic director but you\u2019re not OK to cut this because we haven\u2019t taken a look at it. To me, either they're the same or they're different, and that\u2019s what I\u2019m struggling with, because I don't find consistency there.\u201d Board member Duke Dineen responded, saying, \u201cI think, to that question, you have to also go by the administration and what the administration is recommending, and they\u2019re managing the program.\u201d \u201cThey\u2019re the professionals that we pay to manage the district and manage the program. Much to the conversation that Principal Somers is not ready to pull the trigger on the guidance counselor, but it seems to me the administration has been building a case to add that position to help manage the broader program,\u201d Dineen said. \u201cI don\u2019t think it takes away from the work we have to do to look at the program. We could probably make the job even more valuable as we look at the size of it and the management of it. But I think you\u2019re putting the cart before the horse, and you\u2019re sending the wrong message to young people,\u201d Dineen said. \u201cWe haven\u2019t done the homework, yet we\u2019re making a decision or issuing a grade. It makes absolutely no sense and all the conversations about stress and all the political BS back and forth that starts around this stuff, it\u2019s just something we don\u2019t need to have on the discussion table until we do the homework. We shouldn\u2019t be putting that type of pressure or stress on our students, on those people that volunteer hours and hours on end with our sports programs in town. It\u2019s incredibly short sighted,\u201d he said. Maroney took the chance again to respond. He suggested that the argument about stress on children was not one he understood, as the pressures of making varsity, JV, or freshman sports was a stressor anyway. He also suggested that it was the job of the board to question and contest the administration\u2019s recommendations. Maroney said, \u201cthe stress thing, I\u2019m not sure what that argument is, because the stress is, as well, do you make varsity or not, do you make JV, do you make freshman. I\u2019m not sure what stress that alleviates.\u201d \u201cAnd I think we\u2019re trying to find an answer to argue something. I think what\u2019s frustrating to me is people are saying the budget is too high and we need to find places to cut,\u201d Maroney said. \u201cAnd people are coming in saying we should cut assistant principals, we should cut the Spanish program, we should cut other things which involve students, and I\u2019m trying to find another way to cut students which is an extra, an added. And Tara, I appreciate your point about all extracurriculars and I do agree that I think we have to look at all that,\u201d Maroney said. \u201cAnd maybe this is too soon to do this cut, and maybe there is some sensationalism to it, but it also has to be part of what we as the board have to look at. And Duke, the other part that has always frustrated me is that we rely on the administration to do their job, but the nine people here are the only ones who can correct them or question them. No one else in the country can contest the job they do. So that\u2019s our job, to contest the work that they propose and it\u2019s our job to to question them,\u201d Maroney said. Christa McNamara weighed in as well. McNamara has long sought an in-depth look and discussion around the way all extracurriculars are funded in Darien, sports and otherwise. The board has committed to taking a very close look at those numbers over the summer, and potentially making philosophical decisions about equity in extracurricular funding. McNamara said, \u201cI want to thank Dennis for continuing the discussion. I've been trying to bring this up and I look forward to summer. At this point I can't support the cut. I appreciate the thought that went into it.\u201d \u201cI think we need to be cognizant of what our extracurricular activities look like, sports being part of that conversation. I think every child should have that opportunity to compete, so I would never want to see these ever leave our high school. I think its a valid discussion though to think about where the funding is coming from,\u201d McNamara said. \u201cI do struggle to see freshman sports fully funded and our varsity sports are not. To me that\u2019s a disconnect. As to the comment about being managed and professionals, I respect that, but I do struggle when I get response after response in our athletic department that says, \u2018well this is just how we've done it,\u2019\u201d she said. \u00a0 \u201cRecognizing this administration has only been here a couple of years, but history upon history upon history is not actively managing the process. So I look forward to a robust discussion, and history is no longer the response for why we do things,\u201d she said. Board Vice-Chairman Betsy Hagerty Ross attempted to offer some clarity to McNamara\u2019s comments, \u201cYou\u2019re making a misstatement. Freshman sports are less funded, and JV sports. The parents have the same roles and responsibilities for supplying equipment, probably even more at that level so they\u2019re not fully funded.\u201d This was followed by some cross talk from all board members regarding data that they had received about parent contributions to sports and other fees. Hagerty-Ross continued saying, \u201cOne, I\u2019m not going to support the cut. Two, no sports are fully funded by the administration, Freshmen, JV, or varsity. Three, to make a cut at athletics to bring the budget in at under 2% isn't the place to start.\u201d \u201cThere are many other places that the board needs to dig in to look at in this budget, and we could. We\u2019ve actually gotten distracted by having the administration work on something that most of us, from what i'm hearing, are not going to support,\u201d Hagerty-Ross said. \u201cThere are other places we could look and scrub that wouldn\u2019t affect kids. I think we need to get back to the business of understanding what's in this book before we throw out work for the superintendent and the administration so that we could come in with a reduction in the budet. Which is our point. The point here is that we are scrubbing every number, we should be scrubbing every number, and we should be understanding where we can come in and make these cuts,\u201d she said. At this point, Ochman said, \u201csome of what I\u2019m hearing is concerning to me, in terms of recognizing roles as board members. The role of the board is not to hear from outsiders and determine what the budget should be. The role of the board is to make the best educational decisions it can for the school inside of fiscally responsible budgets, and to work with the town committees to understand what that means.\u201d \u201cSo it is incredibly concerning to me to hear, well they told us 2%, how do we get there. That is not our job. It doesn\u2019t mean the other committees are wrong or we are right. It is a process. But to think that outside groups can tell us what the budget is, and therefore we must get to it, is not understanding the job as a state agency,\u201d she said. \u201cYou are locally elected members of a state agency, which has a very clear mission. Wherever we end up on this, and I think it\u2019s an important cut to have on the table for the public meeting, you do need to remember your roles. If there's confusion upon that, please reach out,\u201d Ochman said. Maroney said, \u201cOn creating work. \u00a0I find it incredulous that some of us feel that this is work directed to the administration. If we don\u2019t know where $272,000 is being spent and how to divide it up, I find that wrong. I think we should have that granularity to know where this money is being spent. To say that this is work I prescribe to the administration, I find that, to me, an inherent problem with the budget.\u201d Superintendent Dr. Dan Brenner also pointed out in the meeting that a look at the budget would reveal that uniforms are bought for varsity teams, but not freshman or JV teams. Coaching staffs are also much smaller, and clearly freshman and JV teams see nowhere near the same level of support that varsity teams do. Board Member Deb Ritchie also said that, being a parent of an athlete herself, the data on the spreadsheet to which other board members referred did not offer a complete picture of parent contributions and support for athletics. The full meeting can be viewed on the Darien Public Schools website, with the discussion around athletics beginning around 56 minutes in. Board members also discussed potential reductions to parts of the budget such as substitute teachers, clubs and councils, and other areas.