FPS cut freshman sports in favor of seventh grade

After swearing in newly-elected members Linda Davis, Kevin Habjan and Scott King, the Fulton School Board took action on several issues during Wednesday night’s regular meeting — most notably voting to eliminate ninth-grade athletics and to increase food service prices.

Fulton Activity Director David Milligan made the recommendation to cut freshman sports and shift the associated coaching stipends, travel budgets and other expenses to reinstate seventh-grade sports as a way “to increase participation in the athletic program and to better prepare students for high school competition.”

He said the decision several years ago to cut seventh-grade sports due to budget constraints hurt the district in two ways.

“First, at the middle school each team is a combination of eighth and seventh graders, so when they come up to ninth grade there are fewer eighth graders,” Milligan said.

He said the second problem was that many students do not try out again if they get cut when trying out as a seventh grader.

Milligan’s proposal called for junior varsity teams at the high school level to consist mainly of freshmen and sophomores, with varsity teams being comprised mainly of juniors and seniors.

“My first question is, if it’s a much better idea, why didn’t you do it two years ago?” Davis questioned. “Does not the same thing happen at the high school as did at seventh grade (with fewer spots available for freshmen). Wouldn’t the freshmen feel they were not able to compete and never come back?”

Milligan pointed out that numbers already have gone down over the past several years — “we’re losing those kids now at the seventh-grade level” — noting that the girls’ basketball program did not have enough players to field a freshman team this year, which also was a problem with the football team. He said it likely would “be more the junior that would get cut because they’re not contributing as much” as a result of fewer spots available rather than freshmen.

“I’m hoping it’s that eleventh-grader that’s losing that spot, not the freshman (who might not come back),” Milligan said.

Board member Katherine Christensen said she did not believe the district has seen the full impact of cutting seventh-grade sports yet, noting that she herself has noticed a big difference in the number of students trying out for sports at the middle school level with her own son.

“I just don’t know if doing away with ninth-grade (sports) does away with all the problems,” Davis argued. “I think there are repercussions to cutting (at the high school) — this is all some of these kids have.”

Milligan pointed out that Boonville cut freshmen athletics last year and several other districts have discussed following suit during regional and conference meetings of activities directors. Superintendent Jacque Cowherd interjected that a similar agreement had been reached during a February meeting between superintendents, although it was not acted upon.

“So what we could eventually run into is that the last school to cut ninth-grade would be because there was nobody left to play,” King said. “I wonder if other districts in our conference are waiting for somebody else to be first.”

Board member Dennis Depping asked which sports would be affected by Milligan’s proposal. Milligan said the football, volleyball, boys’ basketball and baseball programs all would be impacted.

After further discussion, the board voted 5-1 to approve Milligan’s proposal to cut ninth-grade sports and shift funds to reinstate seventh-grade sports, with Davis the only dissenting vote.

In other business, Food Services Director Rhonda Fletcher proposed a 25-cent increase per meal for full-price and adult lunches and a 10-cent increase per meal for full-price and adult breakfasts for the 2011-12 school year.

According to Fletcher, the increases are necessary due to increased costs for the district and an impending federal guideline that will require full-price and free-and-reduced rates to be more equitable. She also noted that Fulton’s food service prices have remained the same for two years.

“Food prices are going up and most vendors are charging fuel surcharges for deliveries,” Fletcher said, adding that there is a 33-cent difference between what it costs the district to provide meals and what it actually is charging. “Fifty percent of schools nationwide are increasing their prices, in part because of federal ‘Equity in School Lunch Pricing’ provision that will possibly go in effect in July that says full-price lunches should bring in as much money as what the government provides for free-and-reduced lunches. At this time that gap for us is 46 cents there.”

Fletcher said her proposal would help the food services department meet a balanced budget rather than the projected $7,869 deficit currently projected for fiscal year 2011.

The board voted unanimously to approve the increase.


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