Saranac Lake school officials to review cost of sports, arts

SARANAC LAKE – Is the Saranac Lake Central School District spending too much money on its sports teams and programs, and not enough on arts and music?

Or is it the other way around? Are the district’s sports programs getting shortchanged in comparison to its arts programs?

School officials hope to shed some light on those questions, which seem to come up every year as the district puts together its budget, at the next meeting of the district’s board of education. The public is encouraged to attend the Jan. 22 session, which will be the first of several board workshops on different components of the district’s budget.

Superintendent Diane Fox told board members Wednesday that she’s been getting some interesting feedback in response to a pair of online budget surveys.

“One person wrote, ‘It is time to take a hard look at what is spent on athletics in the district,'” she said. “A second person wrote, ‘Keep sports at all levels, including modified.’ And a third person wrote, ‘Analysis of budget priorities, e.g. wants, sports, versus needs, arts.’ I read that and thought, ‘Great minds think alike,’ because I’ve already been having people speak to me about what we spend on the arts versus what we spend on sports.”

Fox said she’s been compiling information on the relative costs of the two programs, the number of students who participate in them, and how each program is funded. She plans to present those details, which she described as “eye-opening,” at the Jan. 22 meeting.

“This is something that seems to occupy a lot of time at budget time, and I think it should be something we put right up in front and kind of identify the elephant in the room,” Fox said.

“I think there is a perception, at least by the people who have spoken with me, that each feels like they are the lonely stepchild, and that the other is the preferred activity. Because the costs are not easily identified, the way they are split up, I don’t think perhaps we’ve done the best job of sharing with the community what we do spend on each of those programs.”

The superintendent said she wants to answer these questions early in the district’s budget process “so that does not drive the conversation between now and April, because we do have some other things that are really important to discuss and to prioritize.”

Outside of the debate over the district’s two-week spring break, board member Terry Tubridy said “there’s nothing that’s going to be more emotional than athletics and arts.”

“It’s like a rails-trails (debate),” quipped board member Lisa Paschke.

“And this is not an idea of pitting one against the other,” added board member Clyde Baker. “We want to make sure that’s clear. This is about how can we go forth with everything we want to do.”

The board agreed to start the public session of its Jan. 22 meeting at 6 p.m., rather than the usual 6:30 p.m., and make the issue one of the first things on the agenda.

For those unable to attend the meeting, the district is gathering input on the proposed budget for the next school year in other ways. A link to the second online budget survey is posted on the district’s website, Among other things, it asks respondents to identify what programs and initiatives are the most important to the district’s mission and worth preserving in a time of fiscal constraint.

Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or