Academic Decathlon funding divides Scarborough board

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SCARBOROUGH — While members of the high school Academic Decathlon team crammed for a national competition in Honolulu coming in two weeks, the School Board on April 3 narrowly voted to help fund the trip. 

The board also approved a donation for the Blue Point School gardens from Kitchen Gardeners International.

Discussion became heated before the board voted 4-3 to give the team $2,000 from contingency funds to help pay travel costs for the team’s coaches, Latin teacher Shane Davis and English teacher Jonathan York. 

The Academic Decathlon team has won 25 state titles in the team’s 29-year history, and this year was their 10th consecutive win. In the national competition, the group often places in the top four, according to Davis, who has been an adviser for the team for the past nine years.

Though hesitant to make presumptions early in the school year, Davis said at their practice Tuesday that their winning streak has had an impact on the team’s annual fundraising effort: for this particular trip, the goal was $22,000. But the team could not fully plan for a trip to Hawaii before they won the state title March 1. 

The board has donated money from the contingency fund, which holds $10,000, to the Academic Decathlon team every year since 2007, although it has not given more than $250 per year since 2010. 

School Board members Christopher Caiazzo, Jodi Shea and Christine Massengill opposed the use of the contingency funds for the team’s national competition on the grounds that said funds are for “unexpected expenses” and are not clearly defined for the team’s use.

“This is not a debate on the merits of the Academic Decathlon team,” said Caiazzo in a prepared statement that he read to the board. “The real question is, should the School Board pick winners and losers by giving them funding outside normal channels?” 

Caiazzo urged instead that the team advocate for increased funding from the school for the club’s annual travel expenses.

“I feel bad because these kids have worked very hard and you’d hate to see this not work out. … But I fear that it opens up can of worms for us to become a slush fund,” Shea said.

Other school groups that compete out of state, such as athletic teams or the jazz band, complete most of their fundraising through booster programs outside of the school system. Board member Donna Beeley argued that perhaps because the Academic Decathlon team has small membership and only exists at the high school level, it is unable to raise money year-round as effectively as other school groups.

Board member Jackie Perry was strongly in favor of approving the funding.

“Early on, when we first had Academic Decathlon, that was one of the reasons we had a contingency, because the national competitions have always been out of state,” she said. 

The board agreed to clarify the usage of the funds in a later workshop. 

The team, meanwhile, is close to reaching its fundraising goal. Davis said he hopes that in the next two weeks they will have raised enough to offset the cost of getting 10 students to and from Hawaii and keeping them well fed for the week. They are still accepting donations

“It’s really nice to see the support the kids have gotten from the local community,” he said, including local businesses and Academic Decathlon alumni.

Blue Point Gardens

In other business, the School Board approved a $500 donation from Kitchen Gardners International to assist with expansion of the irrigation system and garden at Blue Point School.

Principal John Thurlow said the school hopes to add an irrigation system from an underground water source and add more raised beds to the gardens, which were moved last year to the front of the school. They also hope to add a tree garden and clear some areas for play trails. 

The school will hold a community work day for students and parents on April 26 to start clearing the gardens for spring.

Shelby Carignan can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow her on Twitter: @shelbycarignan.