By MATT CLARK
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Lee County School District athletic coaches will be making less money, music instruments will go unrepaired and unreplaced, and marching bands will wait another year for new uniforms under a second round of proposed budget cuts.
In a memo from Superintendent James Browder released late Monday, school board members were given a second list of suggested district cuts. The list also included some 75 positions, only 25 of which were vacant. Seven positions in the district´s Exceptional Student Education department, seven in Information Systems and 16 in Transportation make up the hardest hit personnel areas.
The 50 employees have been notified and their positions will be eliminated as of June 30.
Also eliminated in the proposal was overtime pay for employees and other security and transportation services according to the list. After-school and intramural programs will be reduced by two days a week.
Overall, the proposed reductions totaled $6.5 million from the general fund, Browder said in the memo. Last month, the district slashed $8.2 million.
Board Member Bob Chilmonik said the cuts come right out of the classroom, despite district officials saying otherwise.
“This is what keeps students in school and keeps them interested. We have a terrible drop out problem. We have 54 percent of our black students not graduating,” Chilmonik said concerning the cutting of the coach´s athletic subsidy. “I don´t support taking money out of the classroom. I´m going to be very vocal about this in the coming months.”
The subsidy provides district athletic coaches with compensation for their extra work with student-athletes. The subsidies range from between $1000 and $2000 per coach, depending on the sport. Board Member Steven Teuber said the stipends barely pay for the coaches´ gas and has little to do with why they do their job.
“They didn´t cut them, they reduced them. When you look at every sport across the schools it makes a difference,” Teuber said. “They don´t do it for the money anyway. They don´t do it for that. They do it for being a coach.”
Estero High School Athletic Director Jeff Sommer agreed that coaches do it for the love of sport or coaching and to make a difference in an athlete´s life. But Sommer, who recently replaced his football coach, wondered what impact the change may have on recruiting new talent.
“It´s hard to get coaches, I don´t know if this will have an affect,” Sommer said. “Ninety-nine percent of the coaches don´t do it for the money.”
As for whether sports will ever be eliminated from high school, Teuber said it was possible in the coming years. The cuts are the result of the state´s grim budget situation, which was brought on by a poor economy and a property tax amendment legislators told voters wouldn´t affect education budgets. Sommer said this is bad news for Florida´s youth.
“We do have to find ways to save money - maybe cut down on the number of games we play - but it would be a real travesty if we lost sports,” Sommer said. “Sports keeps a lot of these kids out of trouble.”
District officials say they´ll have to cut between $29 million and $33 million from the budget by the time it passes in September, but an exact figure won´t be known until the state passes its budget in the coming weeks. After laying off 31 people, eliminating 47 vacant positions and eliminating all field trips for next year in the first round of cuts, the district has reached a halfway point - the total of the first two cuts is $14.7 million.
South Fort Myers football coach Grant Redhead said he respects the decisions made by the school board. He said Browder, who is a former coach, is always looking out for the best interests of the students.
“Things are tough all over. That is why they get the big bucks,” Readhead said. “If we´re in it for the money we would be doing something else. Lord only knows what we make an hour. We joke about it but no one really knows.”
When it comes to the band uniforms, well, they stink, said Estero High School Band Director Mark Gurnow.
“The band uniform thing, that´s not a big deal,” Gurnow said. “It is nice, especially in Southwest Florida, to be able to replace those uniforms.”
Gurnow said the district replaces two bands´ uniforms every year, at a cost of about $1,300 a uniform. For his about 80-member band, the cost is $107,000. Estero High was up for uniforms next year. However, Gurnow said he was far more concerned with the students that may not have an instrument to play next year and the elementary and middle school education teachers, who don´t have booster programs to turn to.
“There are an awful lot of parents that can´t afford to repair their instruments,” said Gurnow, adding that he was lucky enough to receive funding for repairs this year.
“It´s going to affect me now,” Gurnow said. “I feel really bad for the elementary school teachers and middle school teachers, because they depend more on those funds. It´s going to be a really grim situation for those people.”
© Naples News