RUMFORD – Keeping middle school sports intact mattered more to voters than 12 teaching positions previously pared from SAD 43’s proposed $15.34 million budget.

A majority vote at Thursday night’s district budget meeting increased the fiscal 2009 budget by $4,600 after a voter moved to amend Article 4, restoring junior varsity softball and baseball and coed soccer programs at Mountain Valley Middle School.

With the $4,600 added, the vote by secret ballot on the revised budget total of $15,354,310 was 60-5 in favor.

“I am happy for the support,” Superintendent Jim Hodgkin said afterward of the approved budget. “Our communities have always been very supportive of education.”

Article 4, which asked voters to authorize spending $457,069 for career and technical education, attracted the most debate of the 18 articles.

During discussion, Hodgkin said the sports and teaching positions were cut to keep the increase over this year’s $14,792,937 budget at 4.62 percent.

“A 4.62 percent budget is a pretty substantial budget. At $15.5 million, that was a big concern,” Hodgkin said. “Throughout the budget process, we cut 12 teaching positions and $4,650 (in sports programs). The total that was cut from the budget was $711,000, and that’s a lot of money. If the kids don’t play those middle school sports at this level, they still have the opportunity to play them in town. An attempt was made by the board to make this as equitable as possible.”

He said directors added $4,500 into the middle school’s junior varsity and varsity basketball program, which wasn’t affected by the previous cuts.

He also warned that directors at Thursday night’s meeting were not under any obligation to return the sports programs that were cut.

When asked by a woman in the crowd of about 80 people how the board determined which sports programs to cut, Hodgkin said it was the opportunity for town leagues play for students involved in baseball, softball and coed soccer.

“We’re not ending their ability to do those sports,” Hodgkin said.

When he said that money was put into the budget to hire an athletic trainer, it immediately drew more than a few questions, all asking why a trainer was needed if the junior varsity and varsity positions were being cut.

That’s when district athletic administrator John Bernard stood up and said that baseball and softball were cut because they were new to the middle school this year. Regarding soccer, he said they never know how many youths will come out to play, so that was cut also.

Bernard said a part-time athletic trainer who has yet to be hired would receive an $8,000 stipend, so that he or she could attend sporting events and help with rehabilitation.

“It’s always nice to have a medical person at athletic games,” he said.

Hodgkin said he was concerned about what he termed a precedent being set to value middle school sports over education.

“We cut 12 other teaching positions and they were very important. I think this $4,600 opens the door for any group to come in and say, ‘Cut this for us,'” he said.

After more discussion, moderator Charlie Lever called for a vote, noting that the new figure for Article 4 would be $461,669 after the amendment was passed by a majority.

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