Why expand the gym when sports were cut?

County schools superintendent defends $850K decision

Residents and parents of students at High Tech High School – a countywide public school based in North Bergen – are baffled over a recent addition to the school’s gymnasium, especially since the Board for the Hudson County Schools of Technology eliminated the sports program before the 2010-2011 school year due to a budget shortage.
After cutting the team sports program, the county school board spent $850,000 to expand the gymnasium by building a field house down the road. The new building was prefabricated and completed in time for the current school term.

“It drags the school into the mud for no reason.” – Superintendent Frank Gargiulo
County school officials say the decisions to cut the sports program and expand the gym are separate issues. They said that ending competitive sports has actually created a greater demand for gymnasium space.
The gymnasium and field house are used by High Tech High School and two other schools in the Hudson County Schools of Technology (HCST) – KAZ Prep and the Academy for Independent Studies.

‘Unintended consequences’

Hudson County Schools Superintendent Frank Gargiulo insisted last week that eliminating the sports program and the need to have a gymnasium were two absolutely separate things.
“The unintended consequence of not having sports is [that] we have many other kids involved in activities than ever before,” said Gargiulo. “The gyms are overwhelmed.”
According to Gargiulo, the HTHS gym was previously unsuitable for the students.
“The ceiling is too low, the gym is too narrow. It’s totally inadequate,” said Gargiulo, adding that he had planned to ask the board to build a new gym in Jersey City.
According to North Bergen spokesman Phil Swibinski, the gym is still heavily used by intramural sports, as well as other health program activities.
“It was necessary because of the intramural program, the phys ed programs, and the health classes that have increased in size over the year,” said Swibinski. “The school offers eight programs with lots of students playing.”
More students are taking part in intramural sports or health classes than in the past, Swibinski said, mentioning that the school’s heath program offers aerobics classes.
“The country is facing an obesity epidemic among children,” said Swibinski. “Getting more kids to be active through intramurals and health programs is a good thing.”

Politically controversial decision

Public officials such as Freeholder Chairman William O’Dea have criticized the board’s decision to cut the sports program last year. O’Dea warned at a freeholder meeting that county funding for a new HCST campus in Secaucus could be difficult to obtain if sports were not restored at the schools.
Gargiulo has insisted that while he agrees with O’Dea, he has to stand by the HCST board’s decision.
Currently, county high school students can sign up for competitive sports at the high school in their own town, for example, at North Bergen High School.

‘This really got out of shape’

Many residents however, were puzzled after hearing that the gym was expanded .
Gargiulo talked about a recent poll by a local daily newspaper in which a majority of its respondents felt the county should not have spent the money to expand the gym after cutting the sports program.
“It’s not even comparable, it makes no sense,” said Gargiulo. “We built a building because we needed it. Nobody wants to pay the money for anything today, and I don’t blame them. But the money was there. The public doesn’t always go along, especially when there are money issues.”
Gargiulo added, “Poll the parents here, and find out if you need a gym.”
He added that the negative coverage in the press, “really got out of shape. It drags the school into the mud for no reason.”
Gargiulo also said the money for the new field house came out of a capital budget, instead of an annual operating budget.
“It’s a big difference,” said Gargiulo. “We didn’t get that million dollars in one year; the county pays that million in over 20 years.”
Stephen LaMarca may be reached at slamarca@hudsonreporter.com.

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