By Jarret Liotta
It wasn’t even on the agenda, but a peripheral debate of whether to pay spring coaches their stipends during this time of closures is prompting the Board of Education (BOE) to put it to vote next week.
Elio Longo, chief financial officer, tonght shared details on $550,000 in savings that have resulted from the closures during the operating budget’s third quarter.
But that does not include an additional $241,000 that is currently earmarked to pay Staples High School (SHS) coaches, who Superintendent of Schools David Abbey said are already doing their work with students.
“We have approximately 50 coaches this spring who have already begun their work in a variety of ways,” he said.
He said the season is not yet canceled, but could still be held in June, according to Athletic Director Martin Lisevick.
“They have connected with students,” Abbey said. “They are providing coaching activities on an individual and group basis (online). They’re working to keep their teams in a cohesive fashion.”
“Our coaches have continued to step up and act in a professional manner on behalf of their student athletes,” he said.
BOE member Lee Goldstein, however, raised the question of whether they could negotiate a partial payment this year, given the time commitment in relation to current budget issues.
“To me it’s a lot,” she said, noting the amount of work would be much greater if the teams were meeting in person. “I would like to be negotiating a lesser amount.”
She point out that stipends have been withheld from club advisors in the district, some of whom she said had already done great amounts of work but then not received stipends.
“There’s been work that’s been done … over years,” she said.
Abbey defended the expense, saying he believed the coaches should be receiving three times the amount budgeted.
He explained also that, since the contracts with the coaches’ stipends is also negotiated through the Westport Educators Association union, should the BOE decide not to make the payment—or if it wanted to negotiate a different settlement—it would require union negotiations.
“I’m concerned about band width on some level to start a union negotiation with all that’s going on,” Chair Candice Savin said, likewise echoing other comments of support for the coaches.
She said the negotiation could also impact the continuity of the sports program going forward.
“I’m working harder than ever,” Patty Kondub, the girls’ golf coach at SHS, said in a public comment.
“I’m devastated the Board of Education is considering even partial payment,” she said, noting the coaches do other work beyond their time on the fields and courts.
Given it was not listed as an agenda item, Savin said procedurally there was no place to take specific action and that clarity on how to handle the question was becoming murky.
“I think it’s getting too complicated … I think we’re going to have to put it as an agenda item next week and resolve it,” she said.