Officials developing master plan for Westerly field maintenance, repairs

Sun file photo

WESTERLY — Westerly High School officials will appear again before the School Committee to discuss ways to improve the management and administration of athletic camps run by school coaches and athletic booster organizations following their presentation Wednesday of an overview of the camps.

Superintendent of Schools Mark Garceau asked WHS Principal Michael Hobin, Athletic Director Jamey Vetelino and Head Football Coach Duane Maranda to meet with the School Committee on Wednesday.

"There have been a number of questions raised by various members of the committee since I joined the district about issues related to our athletic programs, fundraising and, most recently, our sports camps," Garceau said.

Several School Committee members praised the camps as being good for the town's youth and helping to develop pride in the town and its school system. But they said they wanted to understand the camps' relationship to the school district and how compensation for camp employees is handled.

Vetelino said the system for paying employees of the camps was revamped this year based on input from Barbara Perino, the school district's former finance director. Perino had asked that the compensation be handled through the school district's payroll system to avoid problems with tax withholding and other potential liabilities.

Vetelino also told the committee that developing a standardized system for how much coaches are paid could be developed in the future as well as a checklist to ensure continuity throughout the camps.

Vetelino said the camps have grown in number and participants in recent years. The first camps were started in the 1990s. In 2017 the camps started using an outside contractor to process fees and registrations. The camps are insured under the school district's policy, he said.

"The goal was to increase the number of kids in our community who are interested not only in that sport but are now interested in Westerly High School specifically and in that sport ... and essentially we want them to them take that positive experience and continue to grow and want to be a Westerly High School Bulldog," Vetelino said.

Hobin and Maranda confirmed that a new football boosters organization had been established, in addition to a long-standing booster organization that has worked for years to provide support, financial and otherwise, for Westerly High School sports teams over and above the funding that the teams receive through the annual school budget.

Maranda said the new booster club will provide funds to make it possible for football players to continue attending a camp, and pay for traditional weekly dinners leading up to games, banquets, and awards.

"All of  those extra things that our kids get to do ... most of their best and most cherished memories" are from "these experiences that we would not be able to offer with just the gate receipts from football," Maranda said.

School Committee member Mary Adams said the committee had been told repeatedly that there was only one booster organization in town. Before asking Maranda to address Adams' questions, Garceau said that the boosters are not considered to be a school district organization and that Maranda does not run the football boosters.

Hobin explained that the football boosters organization was established after it became clear that the original booster group was not interested in taking on the types of activities and management that the parents of football players were seeking.

Adams said she was concerned that the boosters were putting too many demands on community members and students by conducting frequent fundraisers. "The School Committee has a fundraising policy for a reason and that's to not put an undo strain on the community," she said. "I'm also concerned about the strain on students. I don't want students to feel like they have to fundraise."

Hobin said he agreed with Adams' concerns regarding fundraisers. "These are the efficiencies we are looking to improve on," he said.

Committee member Christine Cooke said the athletic camps play an important role in attracting students to Westerly High School. She noted that district officials have focused in recent years on finding ways to stem the tide of students choosing to attend other high schools. At the same time, she said, the School Committee has encountered a need to "clean up" district business practices in recent years, work she said distracts from the district's educational mission.

Cooke asked Hobin, Maranda and Vetelino to help the School Committee "ensure we're not having staff spending a lot of time that can be devoted to other things."

School Committee Chairwoman Diane Chiaradio Bowdy asked Vetelino to continue talking with the municipal Recreation Department to explore a possible partnership for handling the administration of  the athletic camps.

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