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Budget cuts and betrayal of students

ONE CAN hardly blame the students at Winthrop High School for walking out of school last Tuesday. The spontaneous protest, involving about half of the 600-member student body, came less than 24 hours after residents rejected a Proposition 2 1/2 override that would have provided $6 million to the cash-strapped schools and town.

 

The decision by voters will result in numerous teacher layoffs and reductions in town services and staff, as well as cause the elimination of all after-school sports, beginning in the fall. It has already caused School Superintendent Thomas Giancristiano and Director of Finance Lester Towlson to resign at a school committee meeting Thursday.

Winthrop sophomore Paul Eruzione, his No. 19 ranked hockey team preparing for its first game in the state tournament, compared the action of voters to "a death in the family."

"We were planning on winning the state tournament," said Eruzione, son of Olympic gold medalist Mike Eruzione. "We decided not to win it for our town, but for our fans and ourselves."

Students feel betrayed, and the sense of community that once was an integral part of high school athletics in Winthrop no longer exists. Like many of his classmates, Eruzione doesn't plan on returning to Winthrop High in the fall. No surprise there. How can any student who loves playing sports get excited over attending a school that offers nothing in the way of after-school athletics?

Today, mandatory user fees have become the policy of nearly every city and town in the Commonwealth. In Gloucester, the charge is $45 per season for any student wishing to participate in sports. In Winthrop, the user-fee scenario is more depressing -- $315 per season. And people wonder why Winthrop's once proud varsity track team was able to suit up only six boys for the winter indoor season? It's a trend sure to follow in many other communities. Having all but picked clean the pockets of the parents of Winthrop student-athletes, residents and town officials have apparently now decided to simply wash their hands of the city's youth altogether.

Students will have to learn to do without after-school sports, just as they have learned to do without painting, ceramics, photography, band, orchestra, chorus, theater, library, and industrial arts programs in school systems elsewhere. Such programs, it seems, have been deemed no longer relevant to the education of the nation's youth.

Still, one must avoid coming down too hard on those whose actions support that mistaken point of view. Ordinary citizens already bear too heavy a price for the irresponsible spending in both the private and public sector. Can anyone really blame them for wanting no part of any new tax burden?

What happened to the economic miracle promised by the president when he granted America's wealthiest individuals and corporations one of the most generous tax relief measures in history? Such a move was guaranteed to provide new sources of revenue for cities and states hard hit by three years of recession, or so the public was told.

But the fruits of the tax-break program have yet to materialize. Nor has the successful conclusion to the president's two wars, conflicts that already have cost US taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars, at least some of which would have been better spent on such critically underfunded domestic programs as public education, health care, housing, and job training.

As one who has coached in the Gloucester public school system for nearly 20 years, I can attest to the enormous value after-school athletic programs have added to the lives of students.

After-school sports, as with music, theater, and training in the industrial arts, are as important to the growth and development of the young as are math and science, for where beyond those classrooms without walls that comprise America's vast network of playing fields are the great lessons of character any more effectively taught?

Guidance and support are what America's young need most from adults. What they got earlier last week in Winthrop was betrayal.

Jim Munn is the boys track coach at Gloucester High School and a columnist for the Gloucester Daily Times.

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