The Frontier-Orchard Park girls varsity hockey team pulled their blue-and-white team sweaters over their heads, put on their game faces and grabbed front-row seats for a faceoff Tuesday night before the Orchard Park Central School Board.
At issue, like most programs in Orchard Park and school districts statewide, was funding. And to this team of teenage girls, which relies on fund-raising to pay for its program, there was no better night to make their case before school officials and the public than budget night. They pointed out that boys hockey gets money from the school district and girls do not.
“I hope you will consider voting our program into the budget so I can have the same opportunity as my brother,” said Rachel Urbank, a sixth-grade Orchard Park student who will be eligible to take to the ice on the team for the first time next season.
Katie Page, a Frontier senior who was one of a dozen or so girls hockey players who stood up and gathered behind Rachel as she addressed the board, added: “If you’re here, it looks like you care about it more.”
Alexa Ditonto, an Orchard Park senior who will attend Cornell University’s College of Engineering in the fall, thanked the board for approving the team’s formation a few years back to be shared with the Frontier schools but pleaded with the board to step up with some money for the girls team in 2013-14.
Frontier provides supplemental funding for the team, which also raises about $12,000 annually to maintain the program. “We fundraise to pay for our own ice time, our coaches and our referees,” Alexa said.
It’s unclear whether any consensus exists on the School Board, but at least three members – all of them women – publicly voiced support Tuesday for funding girls hockey.
“When you look at hockey, I think there’s an inequity that needs to be addressed,” said Natalie Schaffer, the board’s vice president. “I think these girls have proven they deserve to have a team funded by the district.
“I don’t see this as a new program, I see this as a current program that’s not getting funded.”
Funding was something that board President Alfred McClymonds, Superintendent Matthew McGarrity and Jeffrey R. Petrus, the assistant superintendent for business and support services, wouldn’t commit to publicly Tuesday night, but each said it couldn’t be ruled out.
“It’s not in the budget right now, but it seems like we’ll be discussing it,” Petrus said. “It would be the first time it would be funded in our budget.”
Added McClymonds: “We’ll be discussing it.”
McGarrity said he agreed with the girls that the program “does deserve” to be funded. However, he pointed out that the district, because of substantial losses in state aid and other budgetary constraints, has been forced to stop funding for more than two dozen middle and high school clubs as well as field trips in the last two years.
Earlier in the meeting, McGarrity and Petrus presented their recommended 2013-14 school budget overview to the board.
In it, the administrators call for an $85.6 million spending plan – a nearly $2 million increase over the current year’s budget. School taxes would rise by about 3.28 percent, if the plan is approved.
The proposed budget maintains current student programming while keeping the tax increase within the mandated state tax cap and class sizes in the district within its guidelines, administrators said. There would be a net reduction in staffing of 8.25 full-time equivalent positions, none of which would be administrative or teaching posts.