Headline: Sports are saved! (for now?)
by Lucy Newman, high school junior, Obama Academy
Good news, Pittsburgh. You may remember the Eagle and the Post-Gazette reporting that Superintendent Linda Lane proposed in her State of the District to cut the sports program here at the Pittsburgh Public Schools. This could include middle school swimming, volleyball, and wrestling; high school tennis, swimming, and golf; and all intramural sports. Dr. Lane recently announced that the Administration and School Board do not plan to make any cuts to PPS sports for next year.“There will be no changes for the 2014-15 school year,” declares Ebony Pugh, the PPS Public Information Officer.
Okay, here’s the bad news, as you might have guessed: PPS sports are still on the chopping block for the 2015-2016 school year. So, sophomore swimmers, you may or may not have a team your senior year.
Yet if we students work together with teachers, the Board, and the Administration on this issue, it is possible to find a solution that solves the financial problems related to PPS athletics while keeping a strong sports program available to students.
The move to defer any decision surrounding sports cuts to a later date is not altogether surprising. As the Post-Gazette points out, Dr. Lane had never said when the cuts would come into effect. “We’re not planning to rush through a process to make a decision,” Dr. Lane says, as quoted in the Post-Gazette.
“The District needs to allow for more [time] to engage the Board and Community around any decisions related to athletics,” Ms. Pugh explains. “ Since we are required to make commitments to WPIAL related to next year’s season it was decided to delay any athletic related decisions. We will be engaging the Board and community over the coming months related to recommendations to the Whole Child, Whole Community plan.”
The plan to which Ms. Pugh is referring is called Whole Child, Whole Community: Building a Bridge to the Pittsburgh Promise. Many of the ideas in Whole Child, Whole Community are also discussed in Dr. Lane’s State of the District address. Both can be found on the PPS website. The plan addresses the District’s vision for the future of PPS. Due the district’s financial challenges, a large portion of the document is dedicated to “living within our means.” To do this, the district is considering both increasing revenue and decreasing expenditures.
Cutting the amount of money dedicated to sports is one of the many cost-cutting measures presented in Whole Child, Whole Community. The document presents two options as to how to do this. The first option would reduce the budgetary allocations to be more in line with actual spending, according to Ms. Pugh. The Whole Child, Whole Community document explains that “By reducing the athletics budget for purchased services, which includes funds used to pay sports officials, transport students to competitions and purchase uniforms and equipment, we could reduce spending by up to $400,000 per year. This change is not expected to have a significant impact on students, as the department has not been spending the full budgeted amount in this area.”
The second option would save more money, but would have a much more severe impact on services available. “Eliminating intramural sports; middle school volleyball, swimming and wrestling; and high school golf, swimming and tennis would reduce spending by an additional $600,000 per year,” according to Whole Child, Whole Community.
However, these are not the only two options. Mark Rauterkus, the Obama Boys swim coach, hopes that the district will be open to changes to its sports program. He writes in a detailed position paper several suggestions for ways in which PPS could possibly improve its sports program. Mr. Rauterkus advocates for expanding PPS sports offerings, by implementing a program called PPS H2O. This program could be financially self-sustaining, Mr. Rauterkus believes, because it could raise revenue through community lessons and events. With PPS H2O, the Pittsburgh Public Schools could have water polo, uderwater hockey, kayaking, triathalons, and more, as well as swimming. Further, components of the program would be available to people of all ages.
The delay in making a decision on sports cuts allows students and the community more time to participate in the decision-making process. Any changes will be voted on by the School Board, and there will be multiple opportunities for students and community members to have a say before they vote. Possibilities for community engagement are posted on the district’s website, Facebook, and Twitter. “We’ve got to keep asking a lot of questions,” says Mr. Rauterkus. Only by doing so can we influence the decision-making process to encompass our needs as students.
So, email your Board representative. Speak at a Board meeting. The district’s financial problems can be solved. We need to make sure that we don’t sacrifice too much of what makes our district great in the process.
Same article above but in a one page PDF.