A proposal to extend a shared-services athletics agreement to Woodlynne middle-schoolers provided a few moments of intense conversation at the Collingswood Board of Education meeting on Monday night, as a Collingswood resident and school board member from Oaklyn jousted about the possible pitfalls of such an arrangement.
The board eventually approved the agreement, which will bring in a $7,500 payment from the sending district to offset the possible cost of hiring additional assistant coaches.
At issue, according to Collingswood resident Alan Pepper, is whether it is fair to incorporate Woodlynne students in middle-school athletics in the district.
Collingswood schoolchildren must pay an activities fee of $100 per student (up to a $175 maximum for all siblings in a family) to participate, Pepper said, and bringing in more children would only decrease their playing time on teams for which they already pay to participate.
“I don’t understand this charity case, to our detriment, on many levels,” Pepper said.
Superintendent Scott Oswald, who estimated that Woodlynne has about 100 middle-school-aged children, countered that the agreement is identical to that which the borough has already established with Oaklyn.
“In the cases of the Oaklyn and Woodlynne board, they’re paying for their students to participate," Oswald said.
Oaklyn does not charge its students an activity fee, Oswald said, and he was not sure whether Woodlynne does, either.
"If there is, it would be payable to their board," Oswald said.
“In Oaklyn, they pay the athletic fee, and that then gets reimbursed by Oaklyn,” Pepper said.
"How that district raises their money, they’re going about it a different way than our parents are," said Board President James Hatzell.
“We have 25 different agreements with other districts, and in each of them, we’re trying to make it good for both districts," Hatzell said. "We’re trying to make the experience for both districts better.”
"Furthermore, we have heard from the athletic director that some of the children from Oaklyn and Woodlynne would be better prepared [for the Collingswood High School] if they had an opportunity to gain [athletic experience]," he said.
'It's the right thing to do for the kids'
Board member Lisa Soulos said that involving Oaklyn and Woodlynne schoolchildren in Collingswood athletics at the middle-school level "is a benefit to all three towns.
"We can debate the cost, but I think it’s the right thing to do for the kids," Soulos said.
Board member William Stauts, an Oaklyn resident, took exception with Pepper's argument, which escalated their conversation.
"I’m terribly disappointed that Collingswood residents feel like they’re subsidizing Oaklyn because that’s as far from the truth as it can get," Stauts said. "It hurts a lot to hear things said like that.
"If Collingswood doesn’t like Oaklyn students coming to Collingswood High School, they can go somewhere else," he said. "I watched very good athletes from Oaklyn not get played because the coach didn’t know them. That has gone on for years and years and years, and it’s not going to change."
“I’m talking about the compensation and opportunities that are not available to Collingswood residents at that age level as a result,” Pepper replied.
"When there are 20 Oaklyn kids you can’t play all the Collingswood kids," Pepper said. "The animus is not directed at me because of your dissatisfaction with the school."
'Getting the kids together sooner'
The sports in question could include soccer, field hockey, basketball, wrestling, softball, baseball, and track, Oswald said after the meeting.
Of those, field hockey currently draws the most participants at the middle-school level, he said, but even those counts cap out at around 20 children.
There are no cuts on middle-school sports teams, he said; anyone who wants to play gets the opportunity.
"I don’t suspect we’re going to get 20 kids in any other sport," Oswald said, but added that "the Woodlynne kids may participate at a higher rate in a different sport."
The real mechanism of the agreement, he said, "is to get the kids together sooner.
"Oaklyn kids come in [the Collingswood school district in] 10th grade," Oswald said. "Kids who have been involved in athletics tend to mesh in. This is another opportunity to hopefully get them together."
The $7,500 payment could be used to hire roughly four or five assistant coaches for the year, Oswald said, adding that if the figure is insufficient, "we’ll move towards correcting it next year."
After the meeting adjourned, Stauts and Pepper reconciled.