Administrators at the Wyandanch school district are trying to raise $300,000 in private donations to keep the high school’s sports program running this year.
High school principal Paul Sibblies told Newsday he has received $50,267 from six individuals after a summerlong fundraising campaign to support an athletics program that was not included in the district’s $69 million contingency budget.
According to Sibblies, the district needs to reach $100,000 to ensure it can cover expenses for the district’s fall sports — football, boys and girls soccer and junior varsity girls volleyball. Practice for those teams is scheduled to begin on Monday. The additional $200,000 would be needed to cover expenses for the winter and spring sports.
Districts operating on contingency budgets are permitted to use private funds for programs not in their budget — in this case varsity and junior varsity sports — as long as enough money has been raised to cover all expenses ahead of time, according to Jay Worona, general counsel for the New York State School Boards Association.
Wyandanch was the only Long Island district that failed to win voter support of its 2019-20 budget — its initial $77.8 million proposal failed May 21 and a revised $73.3-million plan was voted down June 18.
Wyandanch’s school board last week placed superintendent Mary Jones on paid administrative leave, a decision that new board president Shirley Baker said was sparked by the district’s financial woes. Jones was replaced by longtime educator Gina Talbert, who did not return messages seeking comment.
The contingency budget led to layoffs of 30 teachers as well as dozens of other employees, the consolidation of student bus routes and cancellation of after-school programs, including athletics.
“Why do we have to penalize these kids?” Sibblies said. “For a lot of them, this is their bread and butter, this is their motivation to be in school.”
Sibblies said he is optimistic the district will reach its goal and expects more checks to arrive this week.
Tom Combs, executive director of Section XI, which oversees high school sports in Suffolk County, said Wyandanch has committed” to fielding its football, soccer and junior varsity girls volleyball teams for this fall.
Angelique Shannon, a physical education teacher in the district, has worked with Sibblies on fundraising to save the sports programs.
“The only thing some of these kids have to look forward to is playing sports at school,” Shannon said, echoing Sibbles. “They know in order to play, you have to be in school and you also need to maintain a certain [grade-point average]. So now they have a goal they have to meet to play sports, and it encourages them to take pride in themselves and their communities.”
Wyandanch football coach Josh Shields said his team’s uniforms, helmets and pads have not been sent out to be cleaned, repaired and recertified because of the uncertainty surrounding the program. He said other coaches have offered to let them borrow equipment in the meantime.
“We might be behind the eight ball a little bit, but that’s OK,” said Shields, in his second year as coach. “Everyone’s just excited to think we have football now.”