First, high-school sports in Arlington were shut down for months because of the pandemic, and now there is a chance middle-school athletics in the county could be eliminated because of budget cuts.
A proposal included in Superintendent Francisco Durán’s 2021-22 school budget calls for the elimination of teacher stipends for extracurricular activities and athletics at the middle-school level. Other proposals call for athletes to pay fees to play, and the elimination of late buses for athletics and other after-school programs.
Any of those cuts could effectively shut down Arlington’s middle-school sports program, something it has offered for generations.
With brushback from parents growing, school officials are saying the proposals are just part of many options under consideration as School Board members consider the budget plan.
“Nothing is final,” said Debbie DeFranco, the county school system’s supervisor of health, physical education and athletics.
There are six middle schools in Arlington – Gunston, Kenmore, Swanson, Thomas Jefferson, H-B Woodlawn and Williamsburg. All field interscholastic sports teams in basketball, soccer, tennis, wrestling, track and field, swim and dive, and Ultimate Frisbee.
“Activities and sports is what gives students in Arlington an attachment to their middle schools,” said one school-system employee, who asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue. “You hate to see cuts, especially now more than ever, because kids need this now.”
Nearby Fairfax County Public Schools – from whence Durán came – does not have middle-school interscholastic sports, making Arlington unique.
“That’s why Arlington is so awesome in that respect,” the school-system employee said.
Like many of the budget proposals, the proposal to reduce or eliminate middle-school sports may take on a potential life of its own as two Democrats vie for their party’s endorsement for the School Board seat of current chairman Monique O’Grady, who is not seeking re-election.
Miranda Turner, one of the candidates competing in the May Democratic School Board caucus, called middle-school sports “cherished activities.”
Turner said the budget proposal was “incredibly disheartening” – “particularly after the year they’ve been through, and when coupled with concerns that Arlington Public Schools may not be planning for a safe, full-time return to school in the fall,” Turner told the Sun Gazette.
“Cutting sports and activities for middle-schoolers is not something I would favor in a vacuum.”
The other candidate in the caucus, Mary Kadera, also said middle-school after-school activities were vital.
“I know that athletics and other extracurricular activities are a really important part of many students’ experience, and for some, it’s what keeps them in school,” she told the Sun Gazette. “I think the good news here is that the federal-relief bill passed may provide a way for Arlington Public Schools to avoid making any of the tier-two cuts that would affect athletics. While the bill doesn’t directly fund coaches or buses or athletic programs, it could offset other costs in the budget by as much as $20 million.”
Kadera said if cuts affecting athletics must be made, she would look first to implement a sliding-scale fee for participation in sports, something other local school systems have used.
That is something the school system is considering, DeFranco said.
“The proposal to pay fees for sports participation would be a similar scale that other school divisions use, [one] that takes into account a family’s financial status, number of students participating in a family and number of sports the student plays,” she told the Sun Gazette.