The Buffalo school system is considering eliminating money to maintain the Johnnie B. Wiley Amateur Athletic Pavilion due to a looming $53 million deficit for the 2013-3014 school year.
For the last several years the district has provided maintenance for the city-owned facility, located on Jefferson Avenue between Best and Dodge streets. In exchange, the district’s sports teams get priority for scheduling games and practices there, according to Aubrey Lloyd, the district’s athletic director.
The move could save the schools about $100,000, according to Barbara J. Smith, the district’s chief financial officer, who announced the cut Thursday during a budget hearing with the Common Council.
But Superintendent Pamela C. Brown said Friday she’ll meet with Ellicott Council Member Darius Pridgen and others in the community before making a final determination.
“We are having to make some tough decisions about things we have been funding in the past, and deciding what we can sustain that’s in alignment with strategic priorities we have been implementing these last few months,” Brown said.
Brown said the Wiley complex didn’t fall into that category, but having been on the job less than a year, she also acknowledged she hadn’t been fully aware of the field’s history and usage.
“I certainly am open to hearing about concerns associated with that decision, and it’s not too late to make a change,” Brown said. “It’s something we will make a decision on in collaboration with the Council member and the city.”
The district’s proposal to stop maintaining the stadium comes amid $593,000 in proposed cuts to the athletic program – 18 percent of the athletics budget. Smith said the district had trouble justifying the expense when only 30 percent of the activities were school-related.
As a result of the proposed cuts, 1,200 to 1,300 students would no longer have access to golf, lacrosse or cross country, along with many junior varsity programs. Modified and intramural sports likely would be eliminated, Lloyd said.
“I understand the Board of Education has to balance its budget,” said Pridgen, who represents the Council district where the Wiley complex is located. “I understand the importance of dollars going to the classroom. Where I am disappointed is that there was no discussion with the Council about how the field would be maintained.”
The stadium, which has been refurbished in the past three years, serves as home field for City Honors’ boys and girls soccer teams, as well as for the East High School football team. It also used by teams across the district, and various community sports programs.
Cedric Holloway, a son of the late Wiley, who chairs the facility’s board, said a much-heralded 15-year agreement in December 2009 that transferred maintenance of the complex from the city to the school district was thought to have brought stability to the site.
“It’s shameful that they would want to hand it back to the city and say never mind, we don’t want to deal with it because it’s too expensive. The irony of all this is the community that uses it are the same people in the Buffalo public school system,” Holloway said.
News Staff Reporter Sandra Tan contributed to this story.