Despite rumblings in the community about the possibility that the Clayton County Parks and Recreation Department would take over the administration of the school system’s middle school sports program, Board of Education Chairperson Pam Adamson said she wanted to make it clear that such a takeover will not happen.
“We are not working with Parks and Recreation,” said Adamson, Thursday. “We will just charge parents a small fee to help defray some of the cost, and the fee will go toward the school system’s budget.” The money is needed, she said, to help the school district reduce expenses at a time when it is facing multi-million-dollar budget deficits over the next three years.
Confusion arose when word seemed to spread around the community that the school district was “in talks” with the county’s Parks and Recreation Department to have that agency take over middle school athletics. Where that information originated is unclear. But Adamson was adamant that the athletics program would remain with the school system.
Several attempts to reach a representative with the Clayton County Parks and Recreation Department, who could comment on the issue, were unsuccessful.
However, Adamson said, parents will have to pay a $35 activities fee for each student who participates in sports, which, she said, will save the school system $261,000 over a 3-year period, or $87,000 a year.
Initially, Clayton County Schools Superintendent Edmond Heatley had talked about making cuts to the arts and athletics programs that would save the district $900,000. One cut would eliminate the sports program in middle schools. Heatley said his plan was aimed at helping the county deal with an estimated $40 million budget shortfall over the next three years.
However, during a board of education meeting earlier this week, Heatley announced, before scores of teachers, parents and students, that the school system will not eliminate the middle school sports program. The board approved the decision, which left the audience visibly relieved.
“I believe the $35 is something most parents and the board were happy about,” said Adamson. “I spoke with several parents after Monday’s meeting and they all expressed that the $35 was [affordable.]”
“I trusted our superintendent and the board members would make the right decision,” said Kevin Jones, head wrestling coach at Lovejoy High School. “If they did decide to get rid of the program, I would have supported them whichever way they decided to go.”
Jones said he has been coaching high school athletics in Clayton County since 2004. He said his time is split among several middle schools. He added that, in his opinion, keeping sports in the middle schools is essential to the growth of students.
“It’s good to start them early in sports, because it will help develop their athletic ability,” he said. “This way, when they get to high school, they will be prepared.”
Although the district decided not to eliminate middle school sports through its tentative budget-reduction plan, Jones said, if the board had decided to do so, he believes it would not have stopped students from playing sports. “Kids will find a way to play sports,” he said. “Parks and Recreation has good sports programs that are offered in Clayton County.”
Adamson agreed. She said even though the district will not use Parks and Recreation to take over middle school sports, she’s hoping the department will still be able to collaborate with the school system. “Maybe we can see about Parks and Rec working with the younger grades,” she said.
Adamson said, although the budget-reduction plan was tentatively approved, the plan could change between now and June 25, when the board is required to vote on a final budget.
“I’m happy the Superintendent and the board decided to save the sports program,” said Jones. “All things seemed to have worked out in the end.”