Tuesday, January 21, 2014

School newspaper article: How to save our sports teams?

This article is by high school junior, Lucy Newman, Obama Academy, reporter for the Obama Eagle, January 2014

How to save our sports teams?:

by Lucy Newman
The school board will soon be voting on whether or not to implement
serious budget cuts that could mean the elimination of several sports
from the Pittsburgh Public Schools system. This could include high
school swimming, golf, and tennis; middle school swimming, volleyball,
and wrestling; and all intramural sports including open gym for
basketball and volleyball. Many students of the Pittsburgh Public
Schools are likely to suffer as a result of the cuts, should they be
implemented. According to Ms. Simmons, Pittsburgh Obama's athletic
director, "you can look at study upon study, and they all show the
results. There is a positive correlation between students' involvement
in sports and their health, academic success, and social life." The
benefits of sports clearly outweigh the costs. Fortunately, there are
several ways in which the Pittsburgh Public Schools can endeavor to
keep its sports teams while maintaining a balanced budget.

Ms. Simmons proposes that, in order to save our sports program, we
should create a contract with a corporation such as Nike. If we were
to buy all of our sports equipment and uniforms from one company, and
to advertise that we are doing this, that company would likely be
willing to help us out with other budgetary needs. Such an alliance
would benefit Nike as well as us. University and professional sports
teams often have sponsors in this manner; and the amount of students
in the Pittsburgh Public School system is similar to that of a
medium-sized college. Yet our sports budget is far behind what the
average college would give its sports teams.

In taking on a corporate sponsor, according to Ms. Simmons, the
Pittsburgh Public Schools would be able to continue its sports teams
as they are. Sports, she grants, are expensive. Just for swimming, for
example, you need thousands of dollars of fixed costs in equipment,
including starting blocks and a timing system. You also need money to
hire a coach, pay for buses and referees for meets, buy insurance for
the pool, heat the pool, fill the pool, and implement a sanitation
system for the pool, on a continual basis. It is also preferable to
have uniforms or even warm-ups for the athletes. It is likely that if
we were to get a sponsor, they would provide us a portion of these
costs free of charge.

There may be some disadvantages to corporate sponsorship. One
disadvantage is that would limit market competition, leading towards
monopoly or oligopoly in the sports equipment market. We would be
obliged to buy only from one company for a certain number of years,
even if there is a more attractive product from another company. Yet
companies could compete over contracts such that once one companies
contract runs out, we could either keep our business with them or turn
to another company that offers us more or better help than the first
one had.

Further, a corporate sponsorship would create a binding contract
between our school and a company that may not always be in our
interest. In theory, such a contract would be a relationship of
equals: We advertise for them, and they help us out with costs. But in
reality, we need a corporate sponsor more than any major company needs
our advertising, a fact that they may be able to exploit to their
advantage. However, if we ensure that the contract is fair to both
parties, we would likely be able to avoid these issues.

So with our options as limited as they are, the disadvantages of a
corporate sponsor are more than compensated in that it could allow for
the existence success of Obama's sports teams.

Mark Rauterkus, who coaches the Obama boys' swim team and the golf
team, proposes another solution to the sports budget problem in the
Pittsburgh Public School system. Rauterkus proposes that the sports
teams should be absorbed by Citiparks, the Pittsburgh Parks and
Recreation department. Citiparks has a separate budget and a separate
set of rules from the Pittsburgh Public schools. If our sports teams
were transferred to Citiparks, Rauterkus believes that programs could
actually be added and improved. “Then we could have water polo,
triathlons, varsity teams that could compete at the highest level,”
Rauterkus explains. Current budgetary problems have heretofore
prevented water polo and very competitive swim teams, and bureaucratic
red tape has prevented us from holding triathlons. Citiparks would be
more prepared to handle Pittsburgh Public’s sports needs than PPS
currently is.

Further, Mr. Rauterkus proposes that we have community events that
could gain money for the Pittsburgh sports teams. He believes that the
school system could make as much as $50,000 per year solely on Obama's
pool through having community swim lessons and events. This amount
could more than compensate for the annual costs of running the pool.
Further, if this idea were applied to every school pool in the
district, its benefits could be multiplied.

Community lessons and events are costly upfront. For lessons, the cost
of insurance would go up dramatically, as would the cost of
maintenance. Any major event takes money to plan and organize, and to
clean up after. Yet the benefits that such lessons or events could
provide to the schools could be well worth it.

Finally, another idea for helping save the PPS sports is to increase
the amount of tax dedicated to the issue. Increasing taxes is always
controversial. But Pittsburgh successfully applied a similar technique
a few years ago in order to save the public library system. There was
a referendum on the ballot that asked whether Pittsburghers would be
willing to increase the millage dedicated to libraries. The majority
voted 'yes,' and since then the libraries have been able not only to
begin paying off millions of dollars of debt, but also to expand
services and hours.

And, in addition to increasing taxes, if the City were to begin taxing
UPMC at a level appropriate to a company of its size, we would be able
to bring in further revenue that could make a serious contribution
towards the Pittsburgh school system. Classified as a 'non-profit
organization,' UPMC currently pays zero corporate taxes; it also holds
many expensive properties that are not taxed, including the UPMC
building downtown. It seems to be a common sense solution that UPMC
should pay its fair dues, rather than continuing to give its extra
revenue to top executives in the form of multi-million dollar salaries
and private helicopters.

Despite these ideas, the options available to those concerned with
saving PPS sports are limited. The school system does not allow
schools to sign corporate sponsorship contracts; they do not allow for
community lessons or events that would gain revenue on the scale that
Mr. Rauterkus proposes; and increasing taxes is an all but forbidden
topic in politics. Certainly, there is no perfect idea for saving our
school's sports teams; yet all ideas should be on the table at this

Before eliminating programs that have such direct, meaningful, and
lasting positive impacts on students, it is necessary to carefully
consider, discuss, debate, and compromise, on possible ways to prevent
such cuts from happening. Because it is more than likely that, with a
combination of the ideas presented above and further ideas not
discussed in this article, that the Pittsburgh Public Schools could
find a way keep its sports teams while keeping a balanced budget. All
those concerned with the fate of PPS sports are hoping that the school
board, the city council, and Mayor Peduto, will keep this in mind.

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