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Newton Schools Still Sorting Out Ligerbots Solution

The Newton School Department is working with teachers to figure out a way to fund the Ligerbots FIRST Robotics program in Newton's high schools.

With just a couple of weeks left before the start of school, Newton Public School administrators and teachers are working together to find a solution to fund coach stipends for the . 

In a School Committee meeting on Aug. 13,  Committee Chair Claire Sokoloff said the stipends are "still a work in progress," but administrators are confident that solution will be ready soon.

"[Superintendent David Fleishman] is very optimistic that we will have a good solution in order for the Ligerbots to resume functioning at the beginning of the school year," Sokoloff said at the meeting. 

Due to demanding schedules and small stipends, the three remaining Ligerbots coaches did not plan to return for the 2012-2013 school year. , several students and mentors stood up to explain the difficult coaching situation and speak in support of the Ligerbots.

Jim Allard, one of the mentors of the Ligerbots, explained at that meeting that the coaches are often over-worked and burned out, putting in hundreds of hours for just a small stipend. Under the current arrangement, no coach is willing to take on the task, he said. 

In June, for students who participate in the Ligerbots program to offset the cost of stipends. Currently, Newton high school and middle school students pay fees to participate in a number of extra-curricular activities including sports and drama.

At Monday's meeting, Sokoloff said the club would not likely have fees for the 2012-2013 school year. The School Department, she said, is working with the Newton Teachers Association to negotiate a one-year plan for the stipends while administrators work out a more permanent solution.

According to a memo sent to the School Committee earlier this year, the School Department currently funds $12,900 for the Ligerbots team. This includes stipends for a primary coach ($2,100), secondary coach ($1,800), two build coaches ($1,500 each) and four assistant coaches ($1,000 each). 

The memo suggested adding $37,100 to the Ligerbots funding to keep the program sustainable for a total of $50,000 in stipends each year. 

The robotics team, which includes students from both and , is a full-year program involving meetings, building time and competition. The team has won a number of accolades including the prestigious "Gracious Professionalism Award" at the 2012 Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Boston competitions. 

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