For God's Sake, Don't Cut The Football Team! & Other Stories From Budgetpocalypse


Earlier today, I blogged about a (an?) "historic" pay "freeze" for an Ohio school district which could only be historic if in fact history has ended once and for all. The freeze, part of a two-year contract, doesn't stop "step increases" that cover a whopping 68 percent of the school's teachers. Overall, the district is facing a $10 million deficit in 2012 on a budget that is currently $235 million; over the past two years they cashiered 52 teachers out of well over 1,000. Now the school district is warning all who will listen that if it doesn't get a tax increase equal to $242 per $100,000 in home value, there would be, among other things, "massive" cuts to sports programs. 

Which got me thinking: Why the hell aren't sports programs the first thing to go in a budget crisis?

(And for the record, I write this not to avenge any real or imagined slights when I was a school kid; I pulled down a couple of varsity letters and even captained an admittedly rotten soccer team.)

C'mon, I mean, really, a school district that is more comfortable giving teachers pink slips than telling freshman, J.V., and varsity teams to go piss up a rope is just wrong.

Which got me thinking even more: Just how much do sports teams cost schools? It's not easy finding out, that's for sure. I asked a couple of education experts, both of whom told me the only way to know for sure is to burrow down into the budget of a particular district. Which I tried to do for the district my kids go to in Ohio, but couldn't really find the relevant material online.

But there are tantalizing bits of confetti floating around the Interwebs to suggest that there's an enormous amount of padding going on in sports budgets for K-12 education. Such as this tale from New Jersey:

The Press of Atlantic City analyzed state Department of Education data for school districts in Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and southern Ocean counties. The 40 districts for which numbers were available cut athletic budgets by an average 10 percent from the past school year, Press analysis shows. Thirty-one of the districts cut school sports programs, while only seven increased funding and two stayed the same.

In the districts that cut athletic budgets, the cuts averaged 15 percent, Press analysis shows.

The most common casualties were freshman and middle-school sports, as well as more expensive varsity and junior varsity teams such as golf, swimming, ice hockey and winter track.

This story is a classic newspaper story in that nowhere does the reporter give a concrete example of how much a goddamn school district shells out for those all-important middle-school sports. Instead you get a number stew like this:

Since 2008, the school added a junior-varsity team to its volleyball program and a varsity lacrosse team, meanwhile increasing its budget by $35,719 from 2008 to 2009. This year it had to cut $74,448 by laying off 11 assistant coaches.

Hughes did not cut any teams, but other schools in the Shore Conference did, which will limit competition for freshman teams….

Most districts increased their budgets significantly the year before they slashed them.

Atlantic City added $72,693 to its athletic expenditures before removing $44,335 this year. Cumberland Regional added $108,193 before taking $32,052.

Lower Cape May Regional added $77,329, then cut $97,141. Barnegat Township added $47,270 in 2009-10, then took more than twice that amount.

You got that? Lower Cape May Regional appears to be down about $20,000 from where it was two years ago. Barnegat Township seems to be down a bit more than $47,270. But who can tell really? And for god's sake, whatever you do, don't just say Vince Lombardi High spent $500,000 on sports in the 2007-2008 school year and plans to spend $425,000 or $600,000 this school year.

But do make sure to put in quotes like this Coach Kleats klassic:

"I've learned more on the athletic field than I've learned in any classroom," said Dave Ryden, president of the Shore Conference, in which almost every high school in Ocean County competes…. I can't imagine walking out of my building at 3 o'clock every day and not see kids playing athletics. I can't picture that in my head," he said. "I don't want to see a world without high school athletics."

If that's true, then President Ryden went to an unbelievably shitty school that I'm betting cared more about sports than, say, reading. And it does pull at the heartstrings that in the midst of a severe recession, massive unemployment, and red ink bigger than a Gulf of Mexico oil spill, Ryden still can't figure out that the primary mission of schools might just be, well, edjumication. Or that it's kind of annoying to realize that Ryden is leaving work every day at 3 o'clock.

And then there's ditty, also from my home state of New Jersey:

The [New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletics Agency's] $5,295,353 budget for 2010-11 does not eliminate any state championship tournaments and is $530,861 (or 9.1 percent) less than the 2009-10 budget.

But the state championships are not safe beyond 2010-11. The NJSIAA must use $638,755 of its $1.2 million surplus to balance the 2010-11 budget.

Associate director Carol Parsons, who made $119,272.66 in 2009-10, will retire Aug. 1. The NJSIAA hired former Southern Regional Athletic Director Kim DeGraw-Cole at a salary of $82,500 to replace her….

Assistant director Bob Baly, who made $97,839, will retire Dec. 31 and will not be replaced. The NJSIAA also froze salaries and laid off a mailroom worker. All the personnel moves saved the NJSIAA $141,000 from 2009-10, according to Timko. The NJSIAA's salary schedule for 2010-11 lists 16 employees, who are slated to make about $933,000.

All told, six NSIAA directors made an average of over $107,000 last year, plus use of cars and more. Which is pretty good work if you can get.

I enjoyed high school athletics when I was a kid. But you know what? I don't want to keep paying for them in a world where schools have already jacked per-pupil spending by almost 100 percent in real dollars since 1970 and still can't raise test scores or balance their budgets. Let CYO, American Legion, and a bunch of other actually voluntary organizations put together leagues and figure out how to pay for them.

Bonus outrage: Go to The Buckeye Institute's immensely user-friendly database of public-sector employment salaries and pension calculators in Ohio, where teachers pull down a fully loaded pension based on their three best years after 18 years on the job. I'm sure other state think tanks have done similar things for your home state. And if they haven't, what are they waiting for?