SARANAC LAKE - With enrollment on a perpetual decline, Saranac Lake Central School District Athletic Director Mark Farmer thinks it may be time to start preparing for the inevitable: axing some of the schools many sports teams.
On Wednesday, Farmer petitioned the district's board of education to create a committee for the pending reduction in offerings. He said it should include the superintendent and several school officials, the chair of the school board and possibly a citizen representative.
"I would encourage the board to consider how will handle that situation so when it comes we do it in a fair and equitable manner," Farmer said. "To that end, I put together some ideas to think about. I am not saying this is the exact way to do it, but we need to think about it in case we have to put in place."
He said the committee should consider such variables as a programs cost, its local tradition and the amount of student involvement. Title IX, which requires equal access to sports between the sexes, would also have to be a primary consideration.
Saranac Lake Central School District has nearly a dozen different athletic offerings, many of them created in the 1990s when enrollment swelled and money was plentiful.
"A lot of our programs were added without much thought in the 90s," Farmer said. "It is very possible that we may not be able to maintain all of them in the very near future."
Between 1990 and 2007, total public school enrollment in the park dropped about 20 percent, or 120,000 students.
In the 1990s, Saranac Lake was regularly graduating classes in excess of 140 students, but now the numbers are typically closer to 90, and are expected to drop even further over the next five years.
Athletics in the park's heart have been suffering for a decade. In recent years, Minerva and Newcomb school districts and Long Lake and Indian Lake school districts have combined their sports programs just to field teams.
Farmer said that no one athletic program has been particularly hard hit as of yet, but the declining trend is noticeable.
"When you have lower numbers and the same percentage participating, that's when you have declining numbers on teams," Farmer said. "I don't want any student or any team or any parent to not get a fair and objective look. I think this is a policy that works both ways. In prosperous times and you are adding programs you want to do it fair and orderly and when you have to reduce you want it to be done the same way."
About 30 percent of the Saranac Lake student body participated in sports this year. And for Farmer, maintaining the school's athletic viability is all about keeping the students interested.