Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s announcement on Monday that schools across the state could be looking at a 20% cut in state aid sent a shiver through those on Long Island associated with high school sports.
If school budgets take a severe hit — which could happen in districts that rely heavily on state aid — athletic programs could end up in the crosshairs.
Cuomo said New York already is in a more than $10 billion hole from battling the coronavirus outbreak and has been promised federal funding to make its budget for the year ahead, but “the federal government has not funded the states to date.” Local government and hospitals could see similar cuts in state aid.
“William Floyd would be severely impacted by any reductions — let alone draconian cuts of 20%, which would rival the Great Recession of 2008-2010,” said James Montalto, a spokesman for the William Floyd School District, where the school budget banks on state aid. “At William Floyd, reductions of that magnitude would impact everything across the board from athletics, clubs, fine arts, music and much more — anything that adds to our students’ experience to become well-rounded individuals.
“We have had hundreds of student-athletes over the past several years make their way to college through athletic scholarships, and to have that opportunity taken from them would be a travesty,” he added. “Our graduating seniors are already missing out on so many experiences and opportunities. It would be a pity for this pandemic to continue to be felt by students for years to come.”
Schools may be able to make trims and avoid major changes to athletics. They also could charge a student activity fee or take other measures to close a shortfall before taking actions as drastic as cutting junior varsity programs, coaches or sports teams.
“Any budget crunch could mean cuts to sports because sports spending is discretionary and not mandated,” said Pat Pizzarelli, executive director of Section VIII, which governs high school sports in Nassau County. “It could have all kinds of ramifications from losing sports to not fielding a JV to forcing a school to raise money so athletic programs aren’t affected. I hope the federal government comes through and these things don’t have to be considered.”
Student activity fees and fundraisers were regular things on Long Island in the years immediately after the 2008 financial crisis, but Pizzarelli said the backdrop of a global pandemic and the cost to fight it make today's situation feel different.
“A cut of 20% would be huge for us,” said Middle Country superintendent Roberta Gerold, whose district includes Newfield and Centereach High Schools. “We have some money in reserve, but not enough to make up for a cut like that. In the face of something like that, we first look at what’s required and then look at what’s not mandated — sports, music and the arts — but these are things that enrich the student experience and make them competitive for colleges.”
“The goal would be to change the student experience as little as possible, so we’d first look at where small cuts could be made,” Newfield and Centereach athletic director Joe Mercado said. Asked about the possibility of fees for students in extracurricular activities, he said, “Our community has always been supportive. I just don’t know what the impact of lost jobs will be.”
Cuomo extended the state’s stay-at-home policy from April 29 to May 15 last week. Section VIII and Section XI, the governing body for high school sports in Suffolk, still could put together a modified spring season if school buildings open then and superintendents re-start athletics. Section XI executive director Tom Combs said Monday, “The governor reiterated that schools are not shut down for the rest of the year at this point in time.”
Combs was on a call with state officials and a representative for the governor on Monday and said all were “hoping we get more federal money to help out with the crisis.” He added, “The representative for the governor did say that individuals should be calling their legislators to request additional revenues to help the state in dire times.”