A Budget Shortfall,
Complex Rules Of
TSSAA May Silence
BY WAYNE PHILLIPS
Schools without athletics?
It's hard to imagine life among high school students without sports, but the "core" business of a school system is education, and maintaining that "core" is the ultimate goal, Greene County Director of Schools Dr. Vicki Kirk said this week in an interview with The Greeneville Sun.
Faced with a $1.189 million budget shortfall, the Greene County Board of Education decided last week to postpone the opening of county schools when a proposed wheel tax increase failed when put to the voters on Aug. 2.
Now, the board is awaiting a meeting of the Greene County Commission on Monday where a possible property tax increase is expected to be debated. That money would be used to help balance the school system's budget.
Otherwise, additional cuts in the proposed county school budget for the 2012-2013 school year will likely be forthcoming, and chopping coaching supplements is one of several items the school board has listed for consideration.
Without coaching supplements, chances of fielding county athletic teams are remote, according to Kirk.
That, she says, "would be a sad day."
A self-described sports fan, Kirk is often seen at sporting events involving the county schools.
"I am a sports fan," she said. "I was never an athlete, but I enjoy watching those who are [athletes] compete.
"Although athletics is not our core business, I think it is an important aspect of school for many students. It provides students with positive activity to occupy their time; it gives them opportunity to be a part of something larger than themselves, and it offers opportunities for leadership.
"There are also good benefits for those who excel in athletics in terms of scholarship monies. I would hate to see athletics go. It is not something I would want to be remembered for.
"However, if we can't maintain our core business, then some things outside the core may have to go."
The board has listed several items that are potential cuts to balance the budget.
Cutting coaching supplements is only one of those, and it would save a total of $264,288, according to figures supplied at a recent school board meeting.
Supplements for coaches are the only item concerning athletics that is paid for out of school system funds.
The remainder of the money it takes to operate the county athletic programs comes through the individual school's athletic budget -- not from county taxpayer funds.
The closing of Glenwood School, the smallest in the school system, is another item on the list of possible budget-reduction steps. Taking that step would save an estimated $586,210.
The list of possible cutback options was not presented in any order of priority.
"There is no priority to the list," Kirk said again this week in the interview.
"The board has not discussed the options at length. I believe their reasoning on this to be that they will have that discussion once we have a firm revenue figure, and we know if cuts are necessary and how much those would be."
NO SUPPLEMENTS, NO COACHES?
Continuing athletics without providing supplements would not be a good idea, the director explained.
"They [the board] have not discussed this; however, we would be reluctant to continue sports without supplements," she said.
"I do not want to speak for them, but if some schools had coaches who volunteered their time, that could put pressure on others to do the same, and I don't think that is fair.
"Also, it would be, in my opinion, a very difficult issue to manage with an all-volunteer coaching staff. There are regulations regarding coaches that require head coaches in football, basketball, baseball, girls softball, and track & field to be full-time employees or retired educators."
The TSSAA (Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association) says that minor sports (golf, tennis, soccer, bowling, cross country, etc.) may be coached by non-faculty or "classified" employees.
But there are regulations governing those coaches as well, not the least of which is that a coach must have completed an on-line Coaches Training Session before they coach in their first year.
Before they coach in their second season, those personnel must complete a TSSAA-approved Coaches Education Course, which requires a two-day class that costs $250 to take.
Non-compliance with those regulations can result in a fine placed by the TSSAA.
The TSSAA Handbook has a complete section regarding coaches and can be found online at tssaa.org. Look at Article 1, Section 9, which begins on page 9 of the Handbook.
There could also be fines to pay for failure to honor signed contracts with other schools for sporting events.
"We would have to consider the contract and fine situations [cash penalties] with TSSAA for the major sports of football and basketball in making our determination as to whether to cut those sports or not," Kirk said.
"But it is my opinion that, if supplements were cut for specific sports, those sports would not operate."
NOT A NEW PROBLEM
Mike Reed, of Morristown, a TSSAA Board of Control member who represents Greene County and East Tennessee, said this is apparently not the first time that talk about cutting athletics in his district has come up over budget issues.
"But it hasn't happened," he said. "This talk always causes quite a stir among everybody."
Reed said that some systems have talked about booster clubs raising money to pay coaches, but even that is governed by the TSSAA Handbook.
"It says, and I'm reading here, 'Coaches must be paid entirely from funds approved by either the board of education, governing board of the school, director of schools, or the principal of the school,'" Reed said.
Meanwhile, Kirk said she knows there is more to coaching a school team at middle school and high school levels than just showing up.
"There are many rules that need to be followed," she said. "The athletic program of a school definitely needs to be under the supervision of (school) employees."
COUNTY NOT ALONE
Matthew Gillespie, assistant executive director of the TSSAA, said in an interview Tuesday that Greene County is not alone in its budget woes.
"The only other system in the state that we're aware of that didn't open on time is Sumner County," he said.
"Apparently they stopped all athletics immediately -- golf matches (which normally start before school begins for the year), football practice, everything.
"They said that TSSAA rules say they couldn't play without school being under way, but there's nothing in our guidelines that states that."
Gillespie did note, however, that TSSAA Board action from August 1974 ruled that after 20 school days from the date a system was scheduled to open, if school has not started, all athletics must cease.
At that time, student-athletes from the affected system may transfer to any other school system and not lose any playing eligibility.
Kirk checked this out before the school board decided last week to delay the opening of the system.
"I was told that there were no rules prohibiting athletics if we delayed school," she said, "but they also informed me regarding the 20-day delay situation.
"The Board did not express an opinion to me on this, but I did make contact with principals to let them know that athletics could proceed as scheduled."
Athletics was basically an afterthought in the decision to delay schools.
"The purpose of delaying school was to prevent disruption to students once placed in classrooms, especially very young children, should cuts be necessary," Kirk said. "I didn't think this [the week's delay] should affect athletics in any way."