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PVL Pipeline: Sports crisis looms for high school athletics

By: Dave Krizman
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High school athletics as we currently know them may not exist next year. Sadly, this may be not a parallel to Chicken Little who constantly uttered the well-known phrase, “The sky is falling.” Too many apocalyptic broadsides have already been fired across the bow of public and higher education in the last year. In the firing line of the state’s financial crisis are the continued cuts to public schools. Over the past few years, school districts have been forced to make painful cuts to programs, to release teachers, and to reduce the length of the school year. For example, last year San Juan Unified School District shut down their Adult School Education program to save money. Just recently, Cal Berkeley eliminated five athletic programs, including their baseball program. Two of the programs were salvaged when donations were enough to save the programs, but baseball, America’s national pastime, was not one of them. At the community college level, the Los Rios Community College District may take a meat cleaver to the sports programs to save over 13 million dollars. This, by the way, is the ‘best-case’ scenario. If Governor Brown’s tax extension is not placed on the ballot, or if it does not pass, the problem becomes dramatically worse. All community college sports in the state would be at risk. But, the most frightening salvo was fired just last week when the area’s largest school district, Sacramento City Unified School District, released their ‘worst-case’ scenario budget for the next school year. Besides the usual suspects to trim costs such as laying off 355 teachers, counselors and administrators and asking for salary reductions of 5 percent, was the startling addition of one word…”sports.” In the district’s ‘worst-case’ scenario, sports funding in the district would be cut. With no funding, there can be no teams. While every school budget is unique, all are on the same battlefield when it comes to school finance. Our local district, the Placer Union High School District, has not formally addressed the possibility of cutting sports. However, like districts throughout the state, PUHSD has had to make painful cuts that have affected the classroom. Peter Efstathiu, Placer High principal, offered these numbers. Sophomore accelerated English had classes of 40 and 41. Senior English classes were in the high 30s. Geometry had five classes of 40 students. Algebra II had a few classes in the 40s. Gov-Econ classes were from 39-42. The counseling department at Del Oro High echoed similar numbers for their classes. Last term, their sole Calculus class had 40 students. The single most important question PUHSD and other districts must ask themselves is, “What is our core mission?” Once that question has been answered, other questions naturally fall into place. For example, “What is the total cost to fund athletics in the district?” “If athletics are saved, how does that affect class size?” “Can we continue to allow class sizes to increase?” At this stage, there are more questions than answers. For example, can parents and or the community fund sports programs? If so, does that not create a wider chasm between the ‘have’ and the ‘have not’ schools? If community funding becomes the norm, no doubt there will be lawsuits galore. If communities fund athletic programs, are they truly a high school team, or do they become a club, much like the Sierra Foothills Rugby Club? Would it be possible to attend one high school but play on a club team at another school? I hope Chicken Little is right, but I have my concerns.