With a vote of 3 to 1, with one member absent, the Jay Public School board discontinued the Girls High School Slow Pitch Softball program.

The vote, the final business conducted during the Thursday, Sept. 14 board meeting, came without discussion.

In presenting the item to the board, Jay Superintendent Kenneth Bridges told the board members "with reluctance" he presented the item for their consideration.

The measure was immediately moved for a vote.

When board member Ashley Williamson verbally objected, saying she thought the item had been tabled earlier in the meeting for further discussion, School Board president David Holcombe replied a motion was on the floor, and discussion was closed.

The measure gained a second and in the end, Holcombe, Arden Jackson and Virgil Stump voted to discontinue the program. 

Williamson was the lone objection. Board member Monte Rutherford was absent from the meeting.

The vote came at the end of the almost two hour meeting, attended at several points by more than 28 softball players - still in uniform from a game earlier in the day, their coach Sammi Watson, as well as parents, grandparents and community supporters. 

Several supporters came to the meeting, prepared to speak on behalf of the program. However, the public comment section of the meeting passed without their knowledge at the start of the session.

When one parent complained, asking if they would have a chance to address the board, Holcombe informed them the board was already into the agenda, past that section.

Several members of the audience complained they could not hear the board members, because the members were not speaking up.

When it appeared the board had postponed a decision about the issue, when the item was removed from executive session agenda, several supporters left at 7:45 p.m., when the board adjourned for the closed session.

As the board's decision to cancel the program swept over the remaining supporters, one parent, who asked not to be identified, called the vote "a slap in the face" to the slow pitch softball players and their parents.

District's response

Following the meeting, Bridges declined to answer questions regarding the vote only saying it was "financially motivated" and the district would save "considerable amount of money."

"We cut to save money everywhere we can," Bridges said, declining to state how much the district needed to save during the 2017-18 school year. "We are looking at all of the options."

Holcombe, when questioned why the board voted without discussion, stated "I don't have to say anything. No comment."

In a one page statement, issued by Bridges on Monday, Sept. 18, he cited issues surrounding state and federal funding for Oklahoma schools as a reason district officials need to reduce the school's budget.

"We must be proactive and conserve scarce resources when and where we can," Bridges wrote in the one page statement. "While the necessary and difficult decision sare rarely popular, our fiduciary responsibilities demand them anyway."

Bridges said the decision to discontinue slow-pitch softball "pales by comparison,or should," to district officials' decision in 2015-16, to cut 12 positions in order to maintain a positive fund balance.

"These kind of measures will almost certainly be increasingly necessary in the coming months," Bridges said. "When looking at our needs in terms of teaching resources and supplies, there are many."

Bridges said the savings from cutting slow-pitch softball will allow the district to replace masonite boards in the elementary classrooms with modern magnetic whiteboards - "a fundamental teaching tool."

Bridges said keeping core teachers in the classroom "is a priority in order to improve our lagging academics."

In addition to coaching slow-pitch softball, Watson is also the fast-pitch softball coach and a math teacher at Jay Middle School. She receives a $2,000 athletic stipend for her slow-pitch softball duties. 

Bridges said while he takes "full responsibility" for the decision, "the district administrative team and governing body are all in agreement."

"It is simply an expenditure not necessary and the slow-pitch season took a core teacher out of the the classroom for upward of thirty days last year," Bridges said. "Under my watch, academics will always take precedence when considering macroeconomics variables."

Bridges said the decision was also aided, because OSSAA member schools see slow-pitch softball as "more recreational in that it does not provide any opportunity for continuation in college athletics."

"In a perfect world, it would be wonderful to provide this and many other extracurricular activities," Bridges wrote. "I'd love to see golf, soccer, volleyball, etc., as part of our repertoire. Unfortunately we do not live in a perfect world.

"Most assuredly, if the priorities of our state-level legislative leadership do not change soon, things will get worse before they get better."

Bridges declined to answer questions based on the statement, stating in a text message to The Delaware County Journal the statement was "pretty clear, so my answers will be 'no further comment' thanks."

Agenda issues

Initially the discussion to discontinue the slow pitch softball was slated to appear in the regular session of the board meeting, listed as item 13 on the original posted agenda, released at 2:30 p.m., on Friday, Sept. 8.

The discussion item was moved to be item h on the executive, closed session, with the vote slated for item 28 in an amended agenda released by board secretary Debbie Wolf at 2:30 p.m., on Wednesday, Sept. 13.

When contacted on Thursday, Sept. 14, Bridges said the item was mistakenly moved to the executive session and would be taken care of during the meeting.

During the meeting, board members voted to remove the discussion item from the executive session, but did not remove item calling for a public vote.

According to Title 25, Section 307, of the Oklahoma Open Meeting Open Record act, public bodies can engage in executive sessions only if the session involves the discussion of "the employment, hiring, appointment, promotion, demotion, disciplining, or resignation of any individual salaried public officer or employee;" for the discussion of "negotiations concerning employees and representatives of employee groups;" for the discussion of "purchase or appraisal of real property"; or confidential "communication between a public body and its attorney concerning a pending investigation, claim or action."

School boards have other rights concerning closed sessions. Boards of education are allowed to "hear evidence and discuss the expulsion or suspension of a student when requested by the student involved or the student's parent, attorney or legal guardian."

An executive session can also be used to discuss matters involving a "specific handicapped child" or when discussing any matter "where disclosure of information would violate confidentiality requirements of state or federal law."

Other items which qualify for an executive session involve issues surrounding terrorism.