At the expense of education?

At the expense of education?


When it comes to track and field improvements, Lyman Hall High School unfortunately is last in line. Wallingford’s other public high school, Sheehan, got its new track and artificial turf field in 2006, though not without cost overruns and delays. Construction of Falcon Field for both Meriden high schools came a couple years later, then a new facility in Cheshire in 2011 and another one in Southington a year after that.

Perceptions about the need for these improvements vary by degrees based on one’s proximity to the athletic programs most directly affected. For some, the work is unquestionably essential, while others view it as a luxury at taxpayer expense. So there’s a little controversy built in with this issue. I would argue, and trends suggest, that scholastic athletics are valued by enough people around here to make these projects reasonable public expenditures – though much depends on the source of the funding and whether a new sports complex is coming at the expense of education.

That’s the issue at the moment in Wallingford. School officials have set aside $500,000 in the proposed operating budget for 2014-15 to put toward the Lyman Hall project and would pursue private grant money and state aid to fund the rest. The operating budget is intended to fund day-to-day expenses like teacher salaries and curriculum. It should be used primarily in the classroom, not to fund capital projects like the track and field.

By most accounts, upgrades to Lyman Hall’s athletic complex are well overdue. The track is uneven and worn, creating a hazard to runners, according to school officials. Soccer games had to be moved to other schools during the second half of last season, one coach told the Record-Journal, because fields at the school were in such rough shape. A new track and multi-use artificial turf field would solve these problems, as similar facilities have done for the other schools.

But the other projects weren’t funded out of the annual education budget. The track and field at Sheehan benefited from two state grants totaling $1 million, while the rest of the project was bonded. The budget for Falcon Field in Meriden consisted of a $2 million state grant and another $2 million from the city. Cheshire received $525,000 from state, which was combined with $231,000 in private donations and another $231,000 from the town. Southington funded its new field by using $310,000 from the town’s contingency fund and $610,000 in savings from its Self Insurance account. The town did use a small amount from the education budget, about $40,000, but it came from the field maintenance fund and was money the board expects to save by installing artificial turf.

The Southington school board actually made a point to vote not to fund the project out of the operating budget to ensure that a new football field didn’t come at the expense of education.

Funding for the Lyman Hall project should not have to compete with educational priorities like the school board’s plan for universal pre-school and full-day kindergarten, which are almost certain to improve student performance and move the district forward. The track and field work should be handled jointly with the town as a long-range capital expense like other school projects, not funded out of the education budget.

Reach Managing Editor/News Eric Cotton at (203) 317-2344 or Follow him on Twitter @ecotton3.


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