By David Howell
WATER VALLEY –The community will be opportunity to “pony up” to offset funding cuts scheduled for the upcoming school year, a move that could restore several athletic programs at the Water Valley School District in the coming school year, following a 4 – 1 vote at Monday night’s school board meeting.
Volleyball, junior high track and junior high baseball had become the latest targets in extensive cuts made by Water Valley Superintendent Sammy Higdon and board members, following an announcement from the State Department of Education that the district would see a 3.23 percent, or $203,418 cut in its funding from the state this year. State dollars account for more than 60 percent of the Water Valley School District’s budget.
The cuts to the three sports will save the district almost $10,000 in money paid for coaches supplements, and is part of a comprehensive plan that eliminates almost $500,000 annually to the school’s budget as school officials brace for tight years ahead. More than half of the cuts were already implemented in the current school year, with reductions made in both in August and October. Of the cuts, two phases have already been implemented in the current year, saving the district almost $400,000 and offsetting the $203,418 cut made by the state last month.
Board members Cayce Washington, Steve Edwards, Lamar Burgess and Taylor Trusty voted in favor of allowing the community to restore the athletic programs, while Ray Hawkins cast the sole dissenting vote. The vote will allow the community to raise $9,350.70 by March 23, a move that would keep the three sports programs on the schedule next year.
Higdon told the Herald on Tuesday that the programs would remain the same next year if the money is raised, putting to rest speculation about several other options to restore the programs including adding them after the regular school day or utilizing coaches from other programs to fill in for volleyball, junior high track and junior high baseball.
One stipulation of the board’s decision is that money must be provided for all three sports, instead of allowing one or two, of the three, to be funded by the community. Of the $9,350.70 required, $4,227.30 will go to volleyball, $1,811.70 will go to junior high baseball, and $3,311.70 will go to junior high track.
The decision by the board followed a plea from Dr. Joe Walker and Leigh Ann Coffey, each urging the board allow the sports programs to be funded.
“This community has always been behind the Water Valley sports,” Walker said, pointing to other projects funded by the community including Crawford Sports Complex, fieldhouse renovations, the school’s baseball field and others.
Dr. Walker also presented a petition with 440 names supporting the baseball program, 201 for volleyball and 204 for the track program.
Coffey stressed to the board the positive role that the school’s sports programs provides for the students.
Following their comments, Higdon outlined his concerns with reinstating the athletic programs.
“We are going to have the good times together, we are going to have the bad times together,” Higdon said, stressing that the decisions that have been made have affected every aspect of the school.
“Sports will pay its share during this time,” Higdon added.
The superintendent stressed that if athletics is reinstated, it would appear that it was a priority over education, a move that would send the wrong message to the rest of the staff at the school.
“I can guarantee you, my staff is watching very closely,” he said.
“Y’all can pull it (athletic cuts), we can agree to disagree, but this is why I have not budged on it,” Higdon concluded.
“I don’t disagree with that rationale,” Trusty said. “If we are going to cut everything else, than athletics deserves to be cut too. But this idea that we are not going to take money if somebody is going to come up and give it to us. It would be crazy if somebody wanted to walk up here and fund that math teacher we had to cut. Would we turn it down? I think if we did that would be nuts, that is just my opinion, and that is the way I feel about these athletic programs,” Trusty said.
“Me personally, I have a problem with one group of parents helping one sport. I think we can move together, and move as one, and help all the sports, track baseball and volleyball, I too think we should let the people speak. I don’t have any doubt that the community can fund these sports,” Edwards said.
“I agree with you Mr. Higdon, we ride the tide together and we ride the trough together,” Washington said. “Our number one priority is education,” he continued, but added that ultimately the community’s support should be embraced.
Siding with Higdon, Hawkins emphasized any money donated by the community should be used for education.
Looking past the sports issue, Higdon stressed the cuts were necessary to keep the school on solid financial ground.
“This plan is about the future,” Higdon said. He outlined the longterm goals from the $500,000 in savings from the cuts that have been made. Higdon said of that money, $100,000 would be earmarked annually for capital improvements at the school, $125,000 for text books and supplies, and $70,000 to purchase a new bus each year. The district needs cash on hand, an estimated seven and a half percent of the school’s total budget, to cashflow the school.
“We are not increasing in students, and we know we are not increasing very much in new tax growth,” Higdon added.