Economy has pinched school athletic budgets - East Valley Tribune: Sports

Economy has pinched school athletic budgets

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Posted: Saturday, July 18, 2009 7:25 pm | Updated: 1:52 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

It’s happening in every corner of the country. Florida wants to reduce its high school sports schedule by 20 percent during the next two years to save money, a proposition that is being threatened by a Title IX lawsuit. New York has already shaved its schedule. Las Vegas schools are weighing the same option.

It’s happening in every corner of the country.

Florida wants to reduce its high school sports schedule by 20 percent during the next two years to save money, a proposition that is being threatened by a Title IX lawsuit.

New York has already shaved its schedule. Las Vegas schools are weighing the same option.

Maine has reduced the number of playoff-qualifying schools in each team sport.

California has nearly a dozen schools with no coaching stipends, instead asking parents and students to make donations.

The list of cuts, changes, reductions and realignments run deep, and though most schools are on hiatus until August, there’s nothing peaceful and easygoing about this summer vacation.

Though not nearly in the dire straits of other metropolitan areas, East Valley schools and their districts aren’t immune from this money drought.

The Higley district, which covers part of Gilbert, saw its athletic budget slashed 60 percent, from $1.5 million to $700,000, as part of a $5 million cut from its $52.4 million budget. But some of those funds will be recouped through tax credit donations.

More funds could also become available if the state doesn’t cut schools’ funding by 10 percent, as feared.

But Higley, like many districts, is anticipating a worst-case scenario. Football and track assistants will still be paid by the school, but the remaining sports’ assistants will be paid by other means, mostly through tax credits. Higley also cut spending on new uniforms and equipment, and will reduce the number of tournaments its teams participate in.

The district rejected a proposal to raise its pay-to-play fees, which are currently $50 per sport with a $100 maximum for the school year ($150 maximum per family).

In addition to a heavy reliance on tax credits, Higley High School plans to start an alumni association in hopes of raising more funds.

“We’ll do whatever we can to make sure the necessities are paid for,” new Higley High athletic director Jennifer Burks said. “We’re kind of fortunate our schools are relatively new (the high school opened in 2001) and still have nice equipment. Obviously this is going to be hard.”

The Scottsdale, Gilbert and Queen Creek districts increased their pay-to-play fees. At least three Scottsdale schools require $100 per sport. Gilbert raised its rates from $55 to $100 per high school sport (it’s $75 in junior high) and Queen Creek doubled its rates from $25 to $50 ($75 for football).

Meanwhile, coaching stipends, new uniforms and equipment were cut.

“There’s nothing popular about this, but everyone’s lost a lot of money lately,” Gilbert district athletic director Mark Cisterna said. “Most of Gilbert is lucky because its growth is relatively new and with some affluence, so it’s going to be tough times ahead and affect schools, families, kids and coaches. But we could be so much more worse off.”

Bob Kanaby, the director of the National Federation of High School Associations, said schools in 43 states charge students to play sports, “and if this economic climate continues, that number will only increase.”

Arizona is included, though the Mesa and Chandler districts haven’t used pay-for-play fees for any Arizona Interscholastic Association-sanctioned activities.

The Mesa district raises money from its December MLK and Holiday Classic basketball tournaments and is looking for more ways to get creative with funding, especially at the lower levels.

Mesa schools reduced their freshman-level football games from nine to eight. Non-varsity-level schedules (especially volleyball) will be geared toward Saturday tournaments of two, three or four matches in one day instead of over two to three days to save on transportation costs.

“It’s pretty evident we’re trying to save money, but a very important factor to that is also building a good program,” Mesa district athletic director Steve Hogen said. “It’s not going to hurt the programs and in fact can help these teams and kids down the line.

“Transportation is easily our biggest cost, so let’s make a better competitive and more efficient experience for the kids and keep them from missing more school.”

Chandler couldn’t escape reductions and budget cuts for the upcoming school year, but Chandler High athletic director Dave Shapiro has felt relatively unscathed for now.

Freshman and junior varsity teams might share busses to the same destinations, as could basketball and soccer teams.

Uniform purchases are out unless there’s a pre-existing contract with a designer.

Varsity schedules haven’t been reduced for any of the districts, but schools are making a more conscious effort to play opponents closer in proximity. The new, two-year region alignments take effect this fall, and though the new setup continues to incite debate surrounding the motives behind the realignments, most 4A and 5A schools in the East Valley are close enough to avoid long, expensive bus rides.

That doesn’t work in 2A and 3A. Chandler Valley Christian stayed in the 2A Central Region, which is less of a travel burden geographically, but continues to play rivals Phoenix Christian and Scottsdale Christian. The football team previously committed to playing in Flagstaff to begin the season; that two-hour trip is the Trojans’ longest this season.

Because of the distance required in most road games in recent seasons, the Trojans have had to charter a bus to games, which can cost more than $1,000 for trips to Red Mesa or Yuma. So the school set its own mandate that its teams keep a travel radius to within one hour, which means no more games against previous opponents such as Tombstone and Yuma Catholic.

“It’s a huge deal in 2A because of the time and distance,” Valley Christian football coach Bill Morgan said. “Around Phoenix the difference could be five or 15 miles, but for most 2A schools outside (the Valley), you’re talking 100 or 150 miles at least.”

Shapiro’s and Hogen’s recession experience parallels Shapiro’s education career of 30 years dating back to President Jimmy Carter. Startled at what schools in California, Oregon and Florida are going through, Shapiro found this neck of the nation to be better off than most.

“I’ve been through three of these now,” he said. “They won’t last forever. I’m optimistic we’ll get through it.”

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