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It sounds like the introduction to a bad joke: A musician, a poet and an athlete get up at a budget meeting to plead for the School Board to keep funding their programs.

This year the punch line is a little different, thanks to a state budget that gave most districts a little more money than the governor’s plan.

The annual struggle can pit the artist against the jock, and it is no laughing matter in school districts as they try to close budget gaps.

It happened at Clarence Central last year, but the community raised nearly $200,000 to fund sports and extracurricular activities. Those programs were added to next year’s proposed budget.

“As far as restorations from previous cuts, and we’ve had many in Clarence, many cuts, we restored middle school and high school clubs and sports that had been cut in this year’s budget,” Superintendent Geoffrey Hicks said.

While sports leagues in Section VI wait for Tuesday’s budget votes to start scheduling games for next year, some districts are getting creative.

An early proposal at Hamburg Central would have cut modified sports to save $60,000 from the budget. But the board decided to save the money in a different way, by eliminating most assistant coaches.

One proposal for Frontier Central School Board members was to cut night athletic contests to save about $12,000 on the cost of lighting the field.

Board members didn’t want to go that far, and Friday night lights were restored.

Many districts are trimming a music teacher here, a foreign language and counselor teacher there, which often reduces the offerings to students but saves programs.

That’s because districts have already made the easier, larger cuts, Erie 1 BOCES Superintendent Donald Ogilvie said. The programs remaining now are the essentials, he said.

“Therefore the only option that you have is to trim,” he said. “It’s not to eliminate an area of program per se, or alter things so dramatically so you can’t recover.”

There is another reason why sports are often targeted, even though educators understand the value, self-esteem, life lessons and other benefits of athletics.

“It’s also one of the further things away from the mission of the school – reading, writing and arithmetic,” said Frontier interim Superintendent Paul Hashem.

Still, when push comes to shove when a budget fails, a district looks at reducing its budget to a contingent level by slashing big-ticket items.

“It’s not a nickel and dime thing, and we have to do it in a short period of time,” Hashem said.

In that scenario, modified sports would be one of the first programs to go.

“Do we want sports, or do we want kindergarten full day? I suspect the answer would be we want kindergarten full day, and pre-K,” Hashem said.

And when programs are cut, more and more parents are willing to pick up the slack.

One parent pleaded with the Frontier Central School Board to let him know as soon as possible how much the French Club would cost for the year, so he could get started raising money.

It was a tortured budget process in Clarence last year, which tried to go above the tax cap on the first vote. Residents turned down the first budget, which would have increased taxes nearly 10 percent. The second budget vote featured a spending plan that was leaner than the first, with nearly 30 positions cut.

That’s when the Clarence Schools Enrichment Foundation quickly formed and entered the picture.

Vic Martucci, the president of the foundation, said there is much more to a “first class” education than academics. But he said it is the “low hanging fruit,” like clubs and athletics, that get cut first.

“Music, art, leadership-type clubs are very important in terms of developing the entire student,” he said. “Often times it makes a big difference on whether or not a student is accepted into their first choice of college.”

Martucci has heard from other communities interested in forming foundations to help supplement programs.

“I think this is the new model for funding public education. You can wring your hands and complain about the current condition,” he said, “or you can do something about it.”

Denise Jewell Gee contributed to this story.

email: bobrien@buffnews.com