COVENTRY — As students in Coventry continue the fight to save athletics and extracurricular activities amid a dramatic budget situation, a fundraiser by a group of athletes and parents to save Coventry High School’s fall sports season has earned thousands of dollars in a matter of days.
“This is for the kids,” said Jennifer Marszalek, a lifelong Coventry resident who started the fundraiser on the crowdfunding website GoFundMe. “There’s nothing political about this — this is for our kids, and for their future.”
During the budget referendum in July, voters in Coventry rejected a Fiscal Year 2021 budget that would have level funded the school district and caused significant cuts to services townwide.
“Not many people voted at all — it was really a pitiful representation of this town,” Marszalek said of the referendum, which only around 2,000 residents turned out for. “Nevertheless, they voted they didn’t want the schools level-funded, but then, for some reason, the town council never put forth a new budget.”
With the General Assembly not expected to vote on a state budget until at least November, Kerry McGee, president of the Coventry Town Council, said last week that it’s been difficult for the town to build its own budget. Still, he said he hopes to have a second referendum sometime in October.
The school district in the meantime has been forced to operate on its 2020 budget, and during a recent meeting school committee members voted to cut the funding, at least temporarily, for sports, extracurricular activities and awards.
As the town council prepares to vote on a revised budget to present to voters, the school committee is sticking by its original request for $74.3 million, which would require an additional $1.8 million in local appropriations. But on top of that, the schools also need to come up with approximately $1.6 million to cover coronavirus-related expenses, even after subtracting savings from last year and anticipated federal aid.
Even if the district does get all the funding it needs to cover both the day-to-day operations and the pandemic-related expenses, by the time all of that gets approved it’ll be far too late for fall sports.
Students and their families have been outspoken about their disappointment over the cuts to sports and clubs. A protest outside the Town Hall Annex last week saw the lawn packed with community members upset with the town council for not putting forward a revised budget sooner. They held signs with messages like “let us play,” and shared stories about the myriad benefits of athletics and extracurriculars.
Marszalek’s son Riley is a runner on Coventry High School’s cross country and track teams. A senior at the school, he said during the protest last Tuesday that the thought of having to give up the sport he loves in his final year of high school is upsetting.
“This is about all the sports, all the awards, all the clubs,” added Marszalek, whose eighth grade son runs cross country at the middle school. “No one club or sport is more important than the other — from football, to chess club, to our radio — everything is important.
Under the Coventry school district’s staggered reopening plan, most high school students are beginning the year remotely. Marszalek said students are bummed to be doing distance learning, as it is.
“The kids are so disappointed,” she said, “and now we’re not going to have sports, clubs, activities.”
The Rhode Island Interscholastic League has extended the deadline for Coventry to register for fall sports to this Friday, and during an emergency school committee meeting Thursday, committee members will decide the fate of the town’s fall sports season.
The students need to raise $42,000 to be able to play the high school sports that the state is allowing this fall — football and girls volleyball aren’t included. That should cover things like coaches salaries, transportation and entry fees.
The hope, Marszalek said, is that if the students can show Thursday that they’re making a strong effort to raise all the necessary funds, then the committee will OK the fall season for those high school sports that the state is allowing.
“I think we have a good shot,” Marszalek said.
The GoFundMe page had already raised well over $8,000 by Monday afternoon, just two days after it was created. In addition to that, the group has raised a couple thousand from private donations.
Students have been reaching out to local businesses for help, and many have answered the call. Among those to pitch in is Coventry Pines Golf Course, which agreed to match donations of $500 up to four times.
Marszalek said she’s amazed by the outpouring of support from the community.
“I just can’t believe how the community is rallying around these kids,” she said. “These kids are our future, and they deserve this — they deserve a chance to be better than we were, because we always want our kids to be better than we were.”