Falls' youth sports programs in good shape despite impending budget cuts

Feb. 8, 2010

Menomonee Falls Superintendent Keith Marty looks at it as an opportunity with challenges attached, while Athletic Director Dave Petroff sees it as a shared problem.

But to be blunt, with the district facing a projected $1.5 million budget shortfall for the next school year and continued shortfalls slated in the future, everything in this upcoming budget plan is on the block.

Including the $60,000 middle school youth sports program, which, if cut, would mean that the youth in the village would have to rely more and more on the recreation department and private entities like the Junior Indians programs for their athletic opportunities.

Something Marty calls "community education."

"Both Keith and I have received a lot of phone calls and e-mails about this," said Petroff. "This is a major problem and everyone has to share in the pain. I've already cut the 'B' teams at the high school and middle school (in past budgets) and now I'm getting to the bone."

Marty said that nothing has been set in concrete yet, but the middle school sports program, like many others in the district, may be cut to help bridge the deficit. The budget process, which won't likely be completed until summer, is just in the discussion phase right now.

Loss of aid, enrollment hurts

This situation is a result of a number of factors, said Marty. They include a loss in state aid ($2.5 million this past year), declining enrollment (another reduction in state aid) and the revenue cap that was put in place by the state more than 15 years ago to control the growth of property taxes.

The district cut 22 teaching positions last year alone, Mary said.

"It's a vicious circle," said Marty. "The state is not in very good shape itself (fiscally) and it occasionally dumps its problems on us (the local governing entities). We want to have this program, we want to offer this class, but we also don't want to pay more taxes.

"We have to find different ways of getting things done, but we're trying to show people that the kids can still participate and develop and have opportunities."

They have that opportunity because working alongside the middle school programs for many years has been an outsized shadow series of youth sports opportunities offered through the recreation department and the Junior Indians program.

As an example, Petroff pointed to the Junior Indians basketball program, which has about 45 boys and girls teams with more than 400 youth involved from fifth grade on up.

"If you look at it, there are programs in place for the kids to play," said Petroff. "Cheer, poms, wrestling, swimming, baseball, softball, football. About the only ones not in place are cross country and track.

"The world is not coming to an end here," Petroff said. "Some people think that this is the end of the Junior Indians program and it is not. … The opportunity would still be there. It would just be offered by a different group."

Costs could go up

Though the costs could be higher in some instances.

For the school programs, both middle school and high school students pay a fee of $75 per sport in which they participate. But depending on the level of the athlete and the amount of travel involved, expenses could rise well beyond that for the privately run teams, a handicap indeed to cash-strapped parents in these economically challenged times.

But the opportunity would remain, said Petroff and Marty. Cases in point: The Menomonee Falls Little League is considered one of the largest and most successful in the state and the Menomonee Falls Swim Club (100 athletes) and the youth wrestling program (60) also have high participation levels. The Junior Indians football program also has solid numbers.

Baseball, softball and football haven't had middle school teams in years, noted Petroff.

Petroff said he made a few calls to other Greater Metro Conference schools and found that some either parcel their youth programs out to private groups or their municipal recreation departments or selectively fund certain sports based on need and opportunity.

"I'm not crazy about this idea," Petroff said. "I'm not championing it at all, but this is a change that is likely going to come at some point."

Marty, who had four of his own children participate in sports at the middle and high school level, unfortunately agrees.

"We're looking at deficits for the next three to five years," he said, "and everything will remain on the table. ... We know students need activities, that they need AP classes. They become better students that way. It would be better if we could offer them multiple options.

"But will we be able to do that?"

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