EAST PROVIDENCE — While there remains no money dedicated to them in the current or near-future budgets, middle school sports are likely to return to East Providence on a limited basis for the upcoming spring season at least.
At a meeting earlier this week, most of the concerned bodies coalesced around the notion of keeping baseball and softball at the Martin and Riverside Middle Schools.
The two non-profit organizations set up in the wake of middle school sports cuts implemented by the East Providence Budget Commission last year — the East Providence Middle Schools Athletics Booster Club and Project 106 — offered some financial support to maintain a couple of spring offerings. Baseball, softball and outdoor track were the last backed financially in the budget before the cuts took effect in time for the current 2012-13 school term.
Due to a deadline set by the Rhode Island Principals’ Committee on Athletics, the governing body of middle school sports, a decision had to be reached by Friday, March 15, to make the programs at each school eligible to compete.
Among those representing the School Department at the gathering were Interim Superintendent Dr. John DeGoes, the principals at both schools — Martin’s Frank DeVall and Riverside’s Steve Prew — and East Providence System Athletic Director Paul Amaral.
The East Providence Education Association, the union of city teachers, was represented by President Valerie Lawson. Drew Thomas, of the School Department’s legal team from Silva, Thomas, Martland & Offenberg law firm, also took part in the meeting as did representatives from both the EPMSABC and Project 106 along with coaches for both sports.
Coaches representing baseball and softball at both schools presented a plan at the meeting outlining how to bring their teams back this spring.
The coaches will serve as volunteers with no salaries involved. Financial support for transportation, pinned at $3,200 for each sport, and other expenses will come from both non-profit organizations as well as other fund-raising activities.
According to a joint press release issued by EPMSABC and Project 106, the organizations combined can offer enough financial assistance to pay for the costs of buses and other fees associated with the sports.
The release continued, “This is a stepping stone towards trying to get all sports back. The groups supporting middle school sports currently don’t have enough money to bring back all teams, but this is a starting point.”
Mr. Thomas and Ms. Lawson were at the meeting, in part, to discuss any possible legal or contractual issues that might arise from the attempt to field teams at the middle schools. There do remains questions about liability and oversight of the programs.
Again according to the release, both concluded “it was possible to bring softball and baseball back as long as it is paid for by the community and not the school department” and that coaches were willing to volunteer sans compensation.
It was stressed by administrators, including Principals DeVall and Prew, they will support the endeavor as much as they can, but that it was imperative for the community at large to support the non-profit organizations in attempt stated attempt to bring back and maintain as many middle schools programs as possible in the future.
According to City Manager and Budget Commission member Peter Graczykowski, the decision to approve any plans to re-implement middle schools has been returned to the School Committee.
“The financial and personnel decisions are back with the School Committee, subject to the review by the EPBC (East Providence Budget Commission) at the March 28, 2013 meeting” Mr. Graczykowski noted in text-message exchange.
Mr. Graczykowski, who was not in attendance for the middle school sports meeting, also wrote the new Administrative and Financial Officer “will be making sure the five-year fiscal plan is followed.”
Chairman Joel Monteiro signaled his School Committee will back the plans. He said the programs would be conducted just as if they were being backed financially by the school department, meaning Athletic Director Amaral will oversee the sports in conjunction with the principals at both schools.
“They’re doing this through the schools and so they are school programs. My understanding is they will be run as they had when they were in our budget, except without the funding,” Mr. Monteiro said.
Going forward, Mr. Monteiro expressed his hope that the community continue to work together to help fund the return of most middle school sports once offered, including cross country and soccer in the fall as well as basketball and wrestling in the winter and outdoor track in the spring.
“In my opinion, between now and if we’re ever able to bring middle school sports back into our budget, I would like to see the programs at the middle school level do some of their own funding,” Mr. Monteiro continued. “If we’re going to be able to bring the sports back in the near term, then we’re going to have to look at the way Little Leagues or other organizations do things in terms of how they fund-raise.”
The School Committee chairman stressed neither his body or the school department initiated the return of only softball and baseball. He credited the effort to the coaches who volunteered their time and the organizations providing the financial support. He did express his desire to see fund-raising continue and grow.
Mr. Monteiro added, “Hopefully as we go through the next few months and into next year, people out there will get a jump on things in the summer so we can continue the sports going forward while we as a school department and school committee try to figure if we can bring them back ourselves.”