Topeka school athletic programs could be cut to help fill the hole in the budget

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TOPEKA (KSNT) — The Topeka Unified School District 501, went face to face with parents Monday night as they try and figure out what needs to be cut next year to make their budget work.

Superintendent Julie Ford, tells KSNT News that the district does not think it can be done without cutting something as sacred as sports programs in the public schools.

“Something has to go in order to preserve what we have,” said Julie Ford, superintendent of the Topeka 501 School District. “We can’t continue to do business as we have in the past.”

Topeka USD 501 is the largest school district in the capitol, and is already taking a $1.6 million dollar hit with only a fourth of the school year remaining.

Over the next three years, the district is expected to lose more than $3 million dollars in state funding because of Governor Sam Brownback’s new block grant funding plan.

“Right now with the block grants I just don’t see that being proper funding for schools,” said Janet Cathcart, a parent who has two children attending Topeka High School. “But this is not a school budget problem, this is Kansas state revenue problem.”

At Monday night’s community meeting, the district gave parents a list of potential cuts. The survey asked parents to give the district feedback on what they would like to preserve or let go.

“I want to make sure that the AP classes stay, and that foreign language classes stay,” said Shannon Kettler, a concerned parent.

Cathcart says she’s worried about the fine arts. Her daughter is in the Topeka High School marching band.

“She’s been in the drumline, and my son is a senior this year in the marching band,” said Cathcart. “It just worries me because after the recession music was cut. It was cut in the fourth grade.”

But programs like fine arts, AP classes and foreign language are small budget items. The district is looking at a bigger one.

“Truthfully what we are looking at and its painful is some athletic programs,” said Ford. “We are not in the position where we can pay to play like some districts.”

“Pay as you play” sports is something Ford says the district can’t afford. This is when parents help subsidize sports programs for children who normally couldn’t afford to participate.

While the district is looking at sports, that isn’t the only option on the block.

While Ford says cutting sports may make the biggest savings, the district is not prepared to say exactly which programs or at what grades could be cut.

The Topeka School District will be holding two additional community meetings.

Tuesday at 6 p.m., in the Topeka West High School choir room and Wednesday at 6 p.m., at Highland Park High School.

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