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Parents blasted town officials at the Nov. 28 selectmen’s meeting over the lay off of two fulltime coaches for the Westford-Littleton Community Crew program.
The program is run at Forge Pond where the crew’s sculls and shells are stored. It was begun some eight years ago by the town’s Recreation Department with a part-time coach and used boats. (Scroll past the video to continue reading.)
The controversy started with an accounting of the Recreation Department’s enterprise fund which revealed an unexpected deficit, according to Town Manager Jodi Ross. It’s the Westford taxpayer who’s footing the bill, she noted, even though half of the program’s participants come from outside of Westford.
“What’s happening is we have delved into the Recreation Department’s budget. It’s an enterprise fund,” said Ross. “The revenues that come in pay the expenses for the program. And what we determined is the crew program was in a position of a $70,000 deficit.”
Ross quelled rumors that she was thinking of ending the program.
“It is our intent not to end this program,” she said. “I’m very supportive of the program.”
That sentiment was echoed by Selectman Mark Kost who said he was involved in the program’s beginnings when his son participated. The effort began on a shoestring budget, Kost noted.
“The program at that time was totally self-sustaining, so I have no idea how it got to this point,” he said, pointing out that there were no fulltime employees in the early years.
“I think it’s the full intent to continue with this program. The issue is how,” Kost added.
Littleton resident John Sagl noted the program fees are hefty. Fees for high school participants are $350 per student, according to the Westford Recreation Department’s website. The cost covers two months of participation.
“We pay a pretty penny to have our kids participate,” Sagl said. He lobbied town officials to put a plan in place that includes participation by the crew families.
He accused the officials of taking action without consulting the program participants.
Pointing to the crowd of students and parents behind him, Sagl said, “When you react, this is what happens. Not the best approach.”
Ross said she has approached Westford Academy Principal James Antonelli to see if the program could operate out of the high school and is planning to meet with him on Friday, Dec. 1.
UPDATE – Town Manager Jodi Ross met with about 60 parents and rowers on Nov. 30 and said she made headway in resolving some of the issues.
“By the end of the meeting, people were happy,” she said. “I’m going to get back to them in 30 days with the next steps.”
Ross mapped out the new structure for the Community Crew program and the other offerings.
“We’re moving it to Westford Academy as a varsity sport,” she said. “The non profit Friends of Westford Recreation with the sub group, Friends of Rowing, will continue the masters adult program.”
The Recreation Department will continue the ergonomics program, Ross added.