Wednesday, March 3, 1999
proposals draw fire
Principals say cuts wouldBy Pat Bigold
endanger students and cost
more in the long run
Top officials of the state's largest public school league reacted strongly to proposals to drastically cut or eliminate athletics altogether in the next legislative budget.
Budget scenarios sent to the Senate Ways and Means Committee yesterday are designed to accomplish 5 percent and 10 percent cuts from the overall Department of Education budget. But the effect on the already struggling athletic departments of the state's 40 public high schools would be severe.
A $3.7 million operating budget that includes equipment, supplies, transportation and coaches' stipends would be reduced by nearly $2.4 million under the 5 percent plan. All junior varsity programs would be eliminated, along with six varsity programs, including soccer and wrestling.
Coaching staffs would also be reduced. Football would wind up with only four coaches. That would create an unsafe condition, some athletic directors say.
The 10 percent cut proposal eliminates athletics entirely.
"I think it's reprehensible to put people through this kind of exercise if it's not for real. But if it is for real, we're going to see this community rise up," said OIA president Gary Griffiths, principal at Aiea High.
"I am absolutely incredulous that anyone would even contemplate dismantling athletics, given what athletics do for children," said OIA vice president Lea Albert, principal at Kahuku High.
"I am hoping the community will not stand for this," she said.
The two principals said the proposals are the most shocking they can recall.
Griffiths said a $2.4 million cut would virtually paralyze the programs. "Essentially there will be no operations," he said.
"I'm tired of operating under crisis management mode. And I still want an answer to what happened to the $150 million budget surplus we were supposed to have last November. It's very difficult to have any faith in what's going on down at the Legislature."
Albert also asked what happened to the reported surplus.
Griffiths said the impact of major athletic cuts on the community would be major.
"This is a program that keeps kids away from gangs, away from drugs. This is a program in which we have a lot of coaches who face a role as foster parent into the early evening every day," he said.
"They want to save $2 million on athletics. Well, they're going to spend way more than that in terms of after-the-fact programs to deal with kids who are on the street because they have nothing else to do.
"I spent a lot of time working with gang kids over here. They want to belong to something bigger than themselves and it's hard to break that loyalty down. To kids coming from homes that are dysfunctional, ... being part of something is really important. And I would think this community would want them to be part of an athletic program and not part of a gang."
Griffiths said that coaches are doing more work than they are being paid to do.
"People can donate only so much of their time," he said.
Griffiths also said he was unhappy that principals were not consulted about the cut proposals.
"The school level people are not part of the conversation anymore about what goes on in the department," he said.
Waipahu athletic director Keith Morioka and McKinley athletic director Neal Takamori said their athletic budgets can't afford even a small cut.
"We are at bare bones now," Takamori said. "Sometimes it seems that half my job is fund-raising."
The idea of reducing football coaching staffs to one head coach and three assistants drew safety concerns.
"There you come into a suit," Takamori said. "It's difficult to coach with four because of the nature of the game today."
Griffiths also warned of safety issues. "If we can't ensure the safety of kids, I would recommend we don't have the sport."
Griffiths said that the proposal to axe the JV programs especially bothers him.
"If this scenario plays itself out, my immediate concern is the JV area because that's where you begin to develop the kids in terms of skill development and interest. When you lose those JV programs, that's when you start to lose a lot of kids."
Albert agreed. "Children in the ninth and 10th grade are particularly at risk so it's important that you have JV programs," she said.
"To cut programs that give them ways to be meaningfully involved and to learn citizenship and cooperation and sportsmanship and all the good things that athletics promotes is absolutely outrageous to me."