NORTH SMITHFIELD – After 17 years of serving as athletics director for the North Smithfield Public School District, Matthew Tek has resigned from the role, citing other obligations.
Tek, who also works as a full-time health and physical education teacher at North Smithfield Middle School, held the athletics director job part-time, taking on the duties for an additional $14,000 stipend.
“We have had a tremendous bargain with Mr. Tek over the years.,” said Supt. Michael St. Jean on Monday.
“Mr. Tek has been instrumental in growing the district’s athletics programs along with all the related opportunities and benefits athletics brings North Smithfield students and the community,” St. Jean later told NRI NOW. “Under his direction, North Smithfield High School offers one of the highest percentages of Interscholastic sports of any high school in the state, which is especially impressive given the smaller, more personalized size of our high school.”
Tek said he plans to continue as a teacher at NSMS, a job he has held for 20 years, when he announced his resignation from the athletics role last month.
School officials will now need to find his replacement, a topic that became central to budget discussions at a Town Council hearing on Monday, June 12.
School Committee Chairman James Lombardi requested $58,000 to hire a part-time replacement as part of a total proposed municipal increase of 1 percent over last year’s education allotment.
But several in attendance this week made the case for a full-time athletics hire.
“I think that we have an opportunity here,” said resident Noel Green, noting that the district could hire a dedicated director for another $30,000 or $40,000. Green pointed, in part, to a group of parent volunteers in attendance on Monday.
“They don’t get paid,” he said. “They’re volunteer parents doing things that should be done by an athletics program.”
Michael Black, founder of town-based National Marker Company and a former president of the North Smithfield Athletics Association, noted that for years, it’s been private business providing much of the equipment, supplies and upgrades needed for the town’s young athletes – including his own company.
“I felt it was very important from a business standpoint that we support the schools,” said Black. “I saw the need.”
“I need you guys to think about the future,” Black told councilors. “We’re building investment in the future and I’m just asking the same from the five of you.”
Black, who sold the company in 2021, has been recognized by councilors for his generosity, with town officials noting he supported more than 100 different programs and charities during his time leading National Marker.
His testimony came amid discussions of the town budget in which School Committee Chairman James Lombardi told councilors that although the district received more than a $1 million increase in state aid this year, unexpected expenses have led to the need for a local appropriation increase of $215,335. The unexpected state aid put the district’s projected revenue at $29,517,497, up more than $300,000 from the School Department’s original request to the town submitted in February.
In light of increased state aid, the Budget Committee has recommended level-funding North Smithfield schools in 2023, but school officials and supporters questioned the wisdom of the plan.
“I know that our state aid this year was very high,” Lombardi said, noting that increased costs for in-district transportation, special education and teachers to keep up with growing enrollment led to the new 1 percent request. “Enrollment is increasing and we need to keep up.”
Lombardi added that state aid may go down substantially next year, creating a structural deficit. State law limits the amount a town can increase allocations to schools in a given fiscal year at 4 percent.
“The state has a bit of a surplus with Covid money this year, so they were very generous with education,” explained St. Jean, noting that inflation and other factors alone typically lead to a need for a minimum increase of 2 percent from the town each year, with no room for growth.
“It’s the concern about what happens in the future,” St. Jean said of the request.
Budgeter Joey Sevigny defended his board’s recommendation on Monday, noting they arrived at the decision to level fund the schools after extensive debate and analysis.
“With the schools getting money from the state, it allowed the other departments in town to get things they needed,” said Sevigny. “The school got the three and a half percent that they asked for – they just got it from the state.”
Sevigny said that if councilors approve the full education request, it will result in school budget increase of five and a half percent in 2023.
Councilor Claire O’Hara said she supports the request.
“If money is spent for they’re good and welfare it’s not frivolous it’s a necessity,” she said of students. “We have to put these kids first.”
Councilor John Beauregard indicated early support for at least a part-time athletics hire.
“We have some great sports programs and some great athletes that come out of that school so I would support that 100 percent,” he said.
Council President Kimberly Alves asked if Tek might be interested in a full time position, noting it would be, “unfortunate,” to offer someone else a higher salary only after the longtime dedicated director resigned.
“He’s done,” responded St. Jean.
The superintendent said that regardless of the decision, the district will have to act quickly to find a replacement.
“We need to hire somebody, like right now,” said St. Jean. “As soon as we have an idea of the funding, we want to post for that position.”
Editor’s note: An original version of this article stated that Tek worked at the high school rather than the middle school. We apologize for the error.