What started as a routine budget presentatuon last Thursday evening quickly turned when lawyer and Cheshire resident Natale Di Natale stepped up to the podium to address Cheshire’s possible Title IX violation and the lack of school funding for girls ice hockey.
After Solan presented his budget to the Board of Education (BOE), Chair Tony Perugini opened the meeting up to public comments, in response to the high number of residents who turned out. Di Natale, along with multiple members of the girls ice hockey co-op team, “The Blades”, took the opportunity to criticize the BOE and Solan for not supporting the hockey team.
“We are here to address something that, quite frankly in 2020, I am surprised we still have to bring up,” Di Natale began. “In Cheshire, we continue to tell our students that we offer equal sports opportunities for both girls and boys, but that isn’t true. While I have nothing against cheerleading, under Title IX they are not considered a varsity interscholastic sport, yet Cheshire continues to claim that cheerleading, sometimes called ‘competitive cheer,’ counts as one.”
Di Natale alluded to the fact that there is a discrepancy between the support for boys ice hockey in comparison to girls, a result of, in his opinion, of an outdated view that ice hockey is a “boys sport”. Di Natale also stated his belief that Cheshire has allowed girls ice hockey as a club sport, but not a full-fledged team sport, in order to avoid the Title IX requirements.
Title IX states that, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” The reason cheerleading doesn’t count as a sport under Title IX, according to the ruling of the second United States Circut Court of Appeals, is that there is no male equavalent sport.
Di Natale and the rest of the Blades believe that the easiest way to fix the issue is to fund girls ice hockey, since the District already funds boys ice hockey as a sanctioned school sport.
“It isn’t fair that the boys ice hockey team only has to pay the participation fee, which is $250, while the girls have to pay $1,800 in order to be a part of the (co-op) team,” said Cheshire High School senior and member of the Blades Nadia Di Natale. “The boys team also gets bussed to and from every practice and game at Wesleyan (University), where the girls team has to be driven by their parents to every game and practice, except for the four times Amity picks up the bill.”
Di Natale explained that the girls co-op team, which includes girls from North Haven and Amity, has to pay for the entire cost of the sport, while the boys team only pays the participation fee.
After their speeches, Solan and the members of the BOE thanked the girls and Di Natale for their testimonies, and vowed to consider their requests.
“I am impressed, but not at all surprised by the level of eloquence and bravery shown by these students,” expressed Solan. “Hockey has been a big part of my life and I can assure you we will look at the issues you’ve addressed tonight.”
In reference to the suggested Title IX violation, Perugini is not worried about a potential lawsuit.
“It’s something our lawyers and people above me are looking into,” he responded. “But as of where we are right now, I don’t believe we are in any violation. But we will see what Solan has to say once he looks into the issue more.”
The meeting began with Solan presenting his budget to the BOE and the community, offering up what he believes the District should spend on Cheshire’s education.
“What I am asking for is roughly a 4.05 percent increase to last year’s request, which comes out to $76,330,052,” Solan announced. “I always look at the budget process as extremely fluid, and at the end of the day our students are at the center of it all and I want to make sure that we are always providing the best support to our students.”
The breakdown of Solan’s budget request, which is roughly $3 million higher than last year’s, is divided among teacher and staff salaries, employee benefits, support services, including transportation, instructional expenses that includes special education, and maintenance and operations, which includes utilities.
“Of the budget I am requesting, about 80 percent of it is going to salaries and benefits for our employees,” Solan explained. “Support services rounds out to roughly $6.7 million, which would be about 9 percent; instructional expenses comes to be about $4.8 million; and maintenance and operations comes to about $3.9 million, or 5 percent.”
Solan also noted that the salary increase this year, which comes to $1,079,387 more than last year, is mostly due to the fact that the District hired seven new instructional aides this year, which Solan told the Board he needs to carry over into the upcoming school year. Solan also explained that this year, besides the new instructional aides, he also intends to hire two additional building security monitors for Chapman and Norton.
In addition to his budget, Solan is asking for the BOE to consider a variety of extra expenses that he believes will benefit the District significantly.
“The teachers have been asking me for sometime now that we invest in more flexible and mobile furniture in order to teach their classes and give students and more hands-on learning experience,” he said. “Also, there was once a time where we all wanted SMART Boards in every classroom. It is now more obvious than ever that SMART Boards are very expensive to replace and repair, and they limit the classroom to a fixed space. We are asking for things like larger flat panel displays that can be portable and allow for movement.”
Besides the budget, Solan took some time at the end of his presentation to address enrollment concerns compared to years previous.
“According to the New England School Development Council (NESDEC), next year’s Grade One is expected to be about 5.8 percent larger than the previous kindergarten class,” he presented. “In general, our enrollment has reached a bit of a plateau, and soon it will begin to increase again.”
Solan then presented the per pupil expenditure, which is $925 less than the state average.
“Cheshire’s 2018-2019 per pupil spending ranks 122nd out of 166 Connecticut school districts,” he boasted. “And our return on investment speaks for itself. Our students are consistently achieveing great things and we are here as a community to support that.”
When his presentation was over, Solan invited the public to attend the rest of the budget workshops going on in the coming weeks, starting on Jan. 21 at Dodd at 7 p.m. for the administrative review of accounts. He stated that at these workshops the public will be allowed to ask questions of the Finance Committee.