Athletes at the state's technical high schools will get to compete in fall sports after all.
Mark Linabury, spokesman for acting Education Commissioner George Coleman, said late Wednesday that because of conference deadlines for committing to games, the state would find the money to fund sports in the coming season.
"I'm ecstatic," said Prince Tech football coach Bob McNamara, commissioner of the Constitution State Conference, which includes 15 technical high schools. "We've very grateful to the Office of Policy and Management and to Gov. Malloy. The ramifications of the damage this would have done if sports were eliminated would not only have been devastating to our schools, but also to the public schools. We play public schools, too. And there had been tech students considering transferring and/or playing sports at the public schools."
The state Department of Education had suspended the $2.8 million athletics program as part of $11.8 million in proposed cuts to the technical high schools, which include eliminating music and the arts, laying off all library media specialists and shrinking the adult education programs.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy had warned that those cuts and others around Connecticut would proceed it state employees don't ratify his concessions deal, which would save about $1.6 billion over two years.
The union vote tallies might not be known until Aug. 18, however.
That would be "way too late" for scheduling games for the 1,500 fall athletes who compete in football, soccer, cross country and girls' volleyball, Patricia Ciccone, the system's superintendent, told the State Board of Education Wednesday morning via speaker phone.
Linabury said in a statement that money for the tech schools' sports programs would have to be found elsewhere in the education department's budget. He added that there is no guarantee winter and spring sports seasons would be funded if Malloy's deal with state employees is not ratified.
Overall, the state Department of Education faces $31 million in cuts for the 2011-12 year if the deal fails.
Some athletes have decided to leave the technical high school system in hopes of playing at their hometown schools, Ciccone had told the board. She cautioned that the decision to save the $989,000 fall program had to be made in the next couple of days.
The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference has a Friday deadline for teams to submit their schedules for the fall season.
Ciccone also said she worried about the "health and safety" of athletes if they can't take part in conditioning sessions.
Throughout the year, about 3,700 students play sports at schools such as Prince Tech in Hartford, Cheney Tech in Manchester, Wilcox Tech in Meriden and Goodwin Tech in New Britain, school officials said. That's about a third of the system's students, some of whom rallied at the state Capitol last week.
When asked whether he recommended reinstating fall sports, Coleman said earlier Wednesday: "I want to see the substance of the system restored. If that includes athletics, fine, but I'm not willing to identify athletics as a priority."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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