Hannibal will begin the next school year without JV sports and could lose other sports before the doors open in September, the district’s Superintendent said.
Mike DiFabio delivered a detailed response to a question from resident Cindy Sullivan, who asked if it was true that JV sports had been cut from the district’s budget.
Hannibal voters recently approved a $25 million dollar budget that raises the tax levy 2.99% but requires cuts of jobs and academic programs such as the district’s successful Reading First initiative. An outcry from the community led the Board of Education to approve a budget that retained sports.
Instead of simply answering “yes” to Sullivan’s question, DiFabio launched into an 8 minute explanation of the factors that went into that decision. He asked the audience to walk in his shoes for a moment.
He said he begins by reminding himself of the district’s mission statement, which aims for “personal excellence” of every student and staff member. Then he considers the district’s Exit Behaviors statement, which lists the goals for each graduating students, including a desire for lifelong learning and respect for individual preparedness for life and career choices.
Next comes district policy 8220, which says the district will provide access to, and expand, career technical services, such as those available through BOCES.
Also, he said he is bound by the goals of the Board of Education to expand opportunities for gifted students as well as lower-performing students, to improve the graduation rate and to increase the emphasis on real life skills and courses.
“Then I realize we have a 25 million dollar budget that’s been the same for 3 years,” he said. “Mike DiFabio’s personal opinion is I will not cut one academic program until all athletics are gone. Why? Academics in my mind is the most important. I did not do that. I listened. I listened to everyone.”
Student athletes formed a lobbying group called SOS and held public events to generate support. They packed Board of Education meetings and met with local politicians to seek more aid for the district.
“I heard loud and clear sports are important. Save sports, save music,” he said. “My academic program is gone. My elementary school has more students per classroom and less teachers than we had before the Contract For Excellence, the five year program from (then-Governor Eliot) Spitzer. That’s sad.”
Sports stayed in the budget and the budget was approved.
DiFabio said at meetings to discuss the budget that if conditions changed, sports could be affected and he had hinted that JV sports was the most vulnerable. One of the things that changed is that students made decisions to take career programs at BOCES.
“What happened is real simple. We have some great kids who see a potential in learning career and technical education by going to BOCES. Now what does Mike DiFabio say? I wonder if this is going to help us with our goals, our mission? Exactly!
“I have students saying I want to learn cosmetology. I’m not going to say no.
“I decided I had to cut JV sports to provide academic program. I’m going to continue to do that until I get a directive not to.
“I’m going to limit an athlete’s ability to play sports. Did I eliminate it? No. Did I limit it? Yes.
“I also want you to hear loud and clear that as the academic requests come in for students to graduate I will meet those and I will have to cut more sports. It’s all I have left to cut.”
He reminded the students in the audience that they had gotten a promise from State Senator Darrel Aubertine to try to find money for the district, which has been particularly hard-hit by the Governor’s across-the-board cuts. “I’m still working on” getting Aubertine to help, said DiFabio. “How many people have made any effort to help? We need to keep the heat on. We are still in crisis.”
Board President Dale Young added that Assemblyman Robert Oaks “promised to help us and so far I’ve heard nothing from him.”
Sullivan said, “This is something you’ve given a lot of thought to (but) you didn’t share. I feel that some of the kids feel a little betrayed now.”
“I was very clear,” said DiFabio, “that it was ‘If I open school today’. People are surprised I had to cut. You shouldn’t be.”
He said if there are more changes, there will have to be more cuts. Those cuts will go into either the modified or varsity sports programs, which will, he said, result in elimination, not limitation.