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Va. District Sparks Outcry Over Budget Proposal That Cuts H.S. Sports

The next generation of star Northern Virginia athletes may have an even tougher time following in the footsteps of Mia Hamm, Grant Hill, and others due to looming budgetary issues.

Facing a projected budget shortfall of $100-plus million for the 2016-17 school year, the Fairfax County (Va.) public schools are weighing whether to eliminate some or all high school sports as a way to help balance the budget.

The district assembled a budget task force to help concoct ideas for potential cuts or redesigns, ranging from increasing class size and reducing the number of days teachers work, to cutting support for extracurricular activities, including sports. According to a draft menu the task force presented at a meeting earlier this month, eliminating freshman sports could save the district $1 million, eliminating junior varsity sports would save $2.1 million, and eliminating varsity sports would save $5.2 million.

The task force also presented values for less severe reductions, such as eliminating one, two, or three sports for males and females (savings of $600,000, $1.2 million, and $1.8 million, respectively). Additionally, removing the athletic trainer allocated to each high school could save $2.2 million, while removing the 0.5 assistant activities director positions at each high school would save $700,000.

"It is not possible to maintain the level of excellence for which Fairfax County public schools is known when we are annually faced with making impactful cuts to the system," said Superintendent Karen K. Garza in a statement. "While we have tried hard to protect the classroom to the fullest extent possible, we now have no choice but to consider cutting student programs and services."

Of the 187,000 students in the school system, roughly 28,000 participate in sports, according to the Washington Post. Board of supervisors chairman Sharon Bulova expressed skepticism to the paper that dropping high school sports outright is actually on the table.

"Eliminating high school athletics is just not going to happen," Bulova said. "I think that the rhetoric is alarmist, and I think that cut list is something that is guaranteed to generate speakers, but I think that they probably will not be things that the school board chooses to reduce."

The district has not yet committed to any of these cuts—they're simply weighing all of their options before presenting a proposed budget to the school board on Jan. 7, 2016. In the meantime, district residents can go online and submit their ideas about how to help balance the impending budget shortfall.

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