Shelton athletic director files grievance over job change

John Niski at right stands with CIAC Assistant Director of Unified Sports Paul Mengold at a Unified Sports basketball game.

John Niski at right stands with CIAC Assistant Director of Unified Sports Paul Mengold at a Unified Sports basketball game.

Shelton High Athletics / Contributed photo

SHELTON — Shifting the school district’s athletic director position from full to part-time has sparked the ire of parents, students and the present job holder.

Longtime and award-winning AD John Niski has filed a grievance over the change — one of many cost-cutting moves approved during the Board of Education’s $3.2 million mitigation in June to keep the education budget at the city-approved $72,650,000 for the 2020-21 fiscal year.

Discussion of the grievance was part of an executive session during a Board of Education meeting earlier this month — the grievance was given on the agenda as the reason for the executive session. Neither Niski nor school administrators would comment on the grievance or on the reaction to the decision to make the position part-time.

The Republican-majority school board voted along party lines, 5-4, to reduce the athletic director and the athletic director’s secretary positions from full time to part time, which created a $100,000 savings in the 2020-21 school budget.

The move also sparked letters and public comment from staff, parents and students alike urging the board to reestablish the athletic director’s job as a full-time post, considering the complexity of the position. The AD creates physical education curriculum and organizes all aspects of the athletic program district wide.

In Shelton, not including Shelton Intermediate School teams, the position handles 54 teams — spring, winter and fall seasons and Unified Sport.

“From my own perspective as a coach, with more than 25 years experience at high school and the collegiate levels, a school of this size needs a full-time athletic director,” K. Matthew Read, SHS boys lacrosse coach, wrote in a letter to the board.

“The part-time positions of coaches are already taxed with time constraints,” Read added. “John has worked very hard to keep our teams strong and build on the legacy of Shelton’s past.

"Coaches have plenty on their respective plates,” Read’s letter said. “John deals with game contracts, field scheduling, discipline on and off the field, eligibility, game security, field conditions, equipment budgets, and a range of other coordinating efforts, daily and seasonally. He is also districtwide physical education and health department head, which adds more to his plate.”

Florian Hulbert, in another letter to the Board of Education, stated that the importance of athletics in the lives of students requires a full-time AD.

"I know many kids who are extremely bright, in AP and honors classes, and they only keep their grades up because they want to stay on their sports teams,” Hulbert stated.

Reem Abdel-Hack, a former Shelton High School student athlete, said sports has provided a positive impact on her life and she credits the athletic department.

“I believe the athletic director needs to be a full-time position in order to keep the successful programs we have been building over the years,” Abdel-Hack said. “By cutting the athletic director position to part time, you are taking away from the potential success and positive influence sports can have on all of us.”

Niski, who was named AD in 2004, was recently named the Michael’s Cup Athletic Director of the Year for his contribution to the success of Unified Sports.