Gateway Middle School students applaud the school board's recommendation to keep the sports program in the middle school Wednesday night in Monroeville.
By Annie Siebert Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Despite hearing from nearly two dozen residents about the importance of keeping athletic director Terry Smith's position full time, the Gateway school board voted Wednesday night on a $65 million 2012-13 budget that funds only a part-time athletic director.
The board also eliminated 27 teaching positions and raised taxes by 0.83 mills.
Residents had stormed several earlier Gateway school board meetings decrying the proposed elimination of middle school sports, so the board agreed to keep the athletic programs in place on a "pay-to-play" basis.
Donald Clay, a Monroeville resident and founder of Imani Christian Academy, noted that one of the justifications for making the athletic director position part time was the elimination of middle school sports programs. With those reinstated, the workload won't change for the athletic director, he said.
Mr. Clay said that for the board to listen to the community support for Mr. Smith and then vote to make the position part-time is "a phenomenal expression of insensitivity to the minority population."
Several speakers noted Mr. Smith, who is black, is a mentor to students regardless of race.
Dylan Smith, a 16-year-old sophomore, agreed.
"He's been like a father figure to me," said Dylan, who is white.
Cliff Thompson, a Gateway high school football coach, called the vote to make the athletic director part time "ridiculous."
He said Mr. Smith would not only help Gateway athletes get college scholarships, but students from other districts as well.
"He's just a great individual," he said.
P. Lorraine Lewis-Burke, president of the Allegheny East chapter of the NAACP, said race played an issue in the board's vote.
Mr. Clay agreed.
"You don't want these things to be racially motivated," he said, "but if it smells like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it must be a duck."
Board member Janice Rawson made a last-minute motion to pull $57,150 from the district's fund balance to restore Mr. Smith's position to full time. She and board member Bill Bailey voted for it; the other seven board members voted against it. The budget passed, 7-2, with Mrs. Rawson and Mr. Bailey dissenting. After the budget vote, three-quarters of the crowd of more than 100 walked out of the high school auditorium.
The budget sustains funding for the district's participation in the Boyce Campus Middle College and keeps the Latin program, both of which were on the chopping block.
In addition to concerns about the athletic director position, several residents expressed concern about teacher furloughs that would result in larger class sizes and the elimination of the high school math and writing labs.
In addition to the furloughs, the budget approved on Wednesday eliminates 18 aides, custodians and secretaries; K-8 field trips; several buses; band uniforms; and the high school math lab and writing center, among other cuts.
The board also called for the creation of a committee of middle school parents, booster groups, administrators and board members to create a plan to create a self-funded athletics program by the 2013-14 school year.
Of the teacher furloughs, most are elementary school positions eliminated because of declining enrollment. The district estimates it will lose nearly 160 students to the Propel Pitcairn charter school slated to open in the fall.