January 28, 2014 | Vol. 74 No. 28

PPS sports cuts could be a big drain

As of last year, the PIAA (Pennsylvania’s Interscholastic Athletic Association) kids are allowed to transfer to other schools and school districts to play sports elsewhere if the athletic program is eliminated from their district’s budget.

Prior transfer regulations stipulated a transfer from one school to another that is “materially motivated in some way by an athletic purpose” resulted in the student-athlete needing to sit out of sports for a year of high school. Now PA kids can uproot and compete right away after the budget ax swings and cuts their sport in their home school.

One PA sports administrator was quoted in the paper saying, “The kids want to compete, and the parents want them to be able to compete. So if the state association doesn’t change its rules, parents are going to pick up and move to a school district in a state where their kid can compete.”

The worry was not about kids moving from one district to another within Pennsylvania, but rather about moving to another state.

The South-Western City (Ohio) School District cut sports out of its budget in fall 2009. The crisis was temporary, and the district reinstated sports in the winter. But by then the damage was done. More than 100 student-athletes transferred out of the one school district while following regulations of the Ohio High School Athletic Association. Ohio had fiscal issues in the early 2000s.

South-Western has four high schools in Division 1 (the top classification in Ohio high school sports). Like Pittsburgh, South-Western is one of the biggest school districts in the state. Those 103 transfers made an average of 25 kids per school.

“I think the district felt the impact of the departures of some key kids who thought they might miss their senior [seasons]. That’s significant if a lot of them don’t come back.”

Despite the reinstatement of sports in the winter, many of these athletes never returned. Two years later, the lasting impact of the exodus was still apparent at some schools.

“It was sad. I think, when you drop programs, kids find other interests. It was hard to get them back up and running again.

“We had another school that did this 20 years ago, and it took them years and years to recover and experience the success they had prior to the dropping of their programs.

“In the couple of instances where this has happened and school districts thought it would be a great money-saving tactic, it didn’t turn out to be so, because when they didn’t offer these programs they had large numbers of students leaving the district. State reimbursement is based on the number of students enrolled,” said Bob Gardner, executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations.

“Measures like these always sound good to the community at first because they think, ‘We’re putting education first,’ but I think sometimes they don’t realize they are cutting out the heart and soul of the school district.”

The cuts to some sports proposed by Pittsburgh Public Schools superintendent, Linda Lane, are not expected to be temporary. They’ll be forever. Families interested in competitions with those sports are going to flee the district forever more, unless the alternative plans being proposed, such as PPS H2O, All-City Sports Camps and the Olympic Sports Division can gain traction and get the necessary approval from school and city officials.

Then there’s the option of two or three schools collaborating to form a cooperative agreement in any number of their athletic programs. PIAA regulations allow a co-op to be created among two or three schools, if one school is at or below the enrollment cap of 300 boys or 300 girls.

Perhaps the Carrick and Brashear swim teams, rather than being cut fully, could be merged with the swim teams of Bishop Canevin and Seaton LaSalle. Presently, both the Catholic schools are renting pool space from PPS anyway.

A co-op could give the students better opportunities to play well with others and save those sports teams while using the existing swim pools in the public schools.

Mark Rauterkus

South Side

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