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Oswego students, parents speak out against proposed budget cuts to sports, other positions

Payne Horning
Riley Elementary student Chris Cote pleads with the Oswego school board not to cut funding for the school district's seventh and eighth grade sports.

The Oswego City School Board approved a $79.5 million budget Tuesday, despite opposition from several students and parents who criticized its cuts to athletic programs.

The district is facing a $5 million shortfall because of falling tax revenues, mainly due to a declining tax agreement with the Nine Mile Point Nuclear Facility, and a depleted fund balance, which is so low that state officials have asked the district not to dip into it for this year's budget.

The proposed 2016-2017 budget would eliminate the high school's football and wrestling teams among others, and it would cut all athletic teams for seventh and eighth grade students.

Chris Cote, a sixth-grade student at Riley Elementary, said that's a mistake because sports offer limitless benefits for kids.

"Sports is a way to build friendships, to stay out of trouble, to stay fit and active and to avoid boredom or sadness," Cote said. "This would completely devastate a student who doesn't have the best personal life."

Parent Chuck Alford said those budget reductions will only exacerbate the problem.

"You're going to see families who care about their kids leave this district," Alford said. "And that's going to drive property taxes down, and what's that going to do to the tax rolls?"

But Oswego's Superintendent Dean Goewey said those cuts mean fewer lost jobs. The proposed budget already eliminates about 50 positions.

"We have to protect our core instructional program first and our class sizes are going up," Goewey said. "That's painful too."

Alford, a former school administrator, suggested raising taxes even though the proposed budget already calls for a 2.5 percent tax levy increase. But, Goewey said that's the limit that the school board thinks the community is willing to stomach.

"Retirees, business people have reported to me, they don't want us to raise it any more than 2.5 percent," Goewey said. "Last year was just under 10 percent we asked for and our budget barely passed."

The budget does include $40,000 for an intramural sport league at the middle school, which parent Pamela Dowd said the community should give a chance. 

"It's still competition, they're still learning how to play together as a team, the coach is still coaching," Dowd said. "I don't want to see anything cut no more than anybody else does, however if you're going to try save something - sports is not where you gotta go. You gotta go back into the teachers. Let's keep the classrooms [sizes] lower if you're going to save anything."

The budget must now be approved by voters May 17.