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Posts Tagged ‘School district

Cutting the school budget by cutting bus rides to games

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The powers that be at Carrollton (Ill.) High School, sitting by themselves on the bus back from road games because the players are riding back with Mom and/or Dad, are wondering: why the hell are we paying to bus kids to their sporting events?

From the State Journal Register in Springfield (Ill.) :

“We’ll have a busload of kids going down to (Hardin) Calhoun for a basketball game on a snowy night,” said Phil Trapani, the principal at Carrollton High School. “Their parents get to the game later, and a lot of the kids go home with their parents.

“So when the bus gets back here, you might have the driver, the coach and a couple of players on it. That’s something you have to look at and say, ‘Are we wasting money here?’”

Carrollton is looking at alternatives that could reduce transportation costs for its athletic teams and other school activities. School Superintendent Beth Pressler said no final decisions have been made, but “people don’t realize the cost of transportation — fuel, maintenance and the driver’s salary.” …

Pressler said transportation costs for Carrollton’s extracurricular programs, of which athletics are a major part, could come to $28,000 by the end of the school year. It’s a figure, Pressler notes, that could cover the salary of one teacher.

Before I get into the subject at hand, $28,000 for a teacher? The median income for Carrollton is $30,000, for those of you who figured you could get rich teaching.

Anyway, with pretty much every school district in the nation cutting their budgets like crazy, $28,000 for not busing kids one-way to their sporting event sounds like easy money. Carollton hasn’t taken it yet, but nearby Carlinville is using the parentmobiles to get some athletes to and from their games, the State Journal Register reports. Anyway, kids on travel teams (most of them, anyway) have to hitch a ride with someone, so why should school athletes get a taxpayer-paid bus?

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Hitchhiking is so jaunty! Just watch out for escaped prisoners.

Well, there are a few problems. One is access. Just like with pay-to-play fees, making students responsible for their own transportation potentially creates a barrier to entry. Presumably coaches might step up to provide rides, if for no other reason than to overcome one other problem a bus solves: making sure everyone shows up together, on time.

The bigger issue, I would presume, is liability. One set of Carlinville parents told the State Journal Register that they bought extra liability insurance, at their own expense, for trucking other kids around. Schools would need all coaches and parents transporting kids to do the same if they’re counting on them as transportation. Even so, you know that if a parent’s car gets in a wreck, the school district is getting sued, too. With the time, hassle and money involved, the school might be just as well to keep the one-way bus, and instead try other create means pointed out in the Springfield article, such as limiting how far you’ll travel, or scheduling so boys’ and girls’ teams can double up.

Written by rkcookjr

March 23, 2010 at 2:25 am

Softball coach fired for employing sex offender husband — it gets weirder

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A little inside True/Slant baseball. This morning I got an email from the site’s own Kashmir Hill, saying she thought of me when she saw a story about a private school volleyball coach busted for kissing a 14-year-old girl. (This school, Brooklyn Poly Prep Country Day, is still reeling from the realization its late, longtime football coach was a child predator.) I thanked Kashmir for thinking of me, hoping it was because of this blog and not because I’ve given any indication of being a perv myself. I also mentioned that given the volumen of stories I see, I could probably make this site nothing but coach/student sex scandals (“That’s depressing,” Kashmir responded). I said I would leave most of that to

Well, thanks to Badjocks, I discovered a story that goes beyond the pale of the usual coach/student ickiness.

So in Palm Desert, Calif., the high school softball coach, Ashley Nieto, got fired for having a sex offender helping her out. That sex offender: her husband, Ronald Nieto. That husband’s victim: the softball coach herself.

But to crib a line from the great Captain Underpants series — OK, maybe a principal who runs around in his underpants is not the best literary character to cite in a piece like this — but before I tell you that story, I have to tell you this one.


According to the Desert Sun (Palm Springs, Calif.), Ashley Nieto, used her husband an assistant in 2004, until the district informed her and other coaches that every coach would have to be fingerprinted for a background check. Coach Nieto told the school about her husband’s sex offender past — a 1998 guilty plea to two counts of lewd activity with child younger than 16 — and was told her husband’s services in the dugout were no longer needed.

Except that he eventually made his way back to the dugout and helped work out the kids. The Nietos said there was a vendetta because a deputy district attorney’s daughter didn’t make varsity, although several parents came forward over the summer to tell the school Ronald Nieto worked with the girls on conditioning drills. Vendetta or not, and even though there was no evidence he ever harmed any Palm Desert player, Ronald Nieto couldn’t be working with the team.  and on Dec. 3, Ronald Nieto pleaded not guilty on Dec. 3 to charges of not disclosing his sex offender status, working with minors as a registered sex offender and being on campus without school officials’ permission.

Now about that Ashley-being-a-victim-of-Ronald thing.

Ronald’s conviction came when he was 38, and Ashley was 14. (He is now 50, she, 26.) Her contention is that she never wanted to press charges, but that her father demanded them. Parents just don’t understand, do they?

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Apparently, neither do the police, the school district, or just about anyone else. There is a time and place to argue that maybe we’ve gone overboard with putting people in the sex offender list (someone arrested for peeing outside? Really?), but this isn’t that place. If Ashley Nieto needs to work out her daddy issues or whatever with her aged husband, that’s her business. The Palm Desert softball team doesn’t need to be a part of it. That’s depressing.

The New York Times thinks it's identified a cancer in Hoosier Hysteria

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John Branch of the New York Times visited tiny Medora, Ind., to find a high school boys’ basketball program he calls the anti-Hoosiers, as in the bizarro world where the Medora High Hornets are doing this for all the small schools that never sunk this far. It all makes sense, except that Branch doesn’t spend enough time on the more boring, important reason why a small Indiana high school struggles so much in the supposed Hoosier birthright: it’s a small school in a small district.

Players for Medora High School have taken the court wearing work boots because their families cannot afford basketball shoes. Most smoke cigarettes. Some talk openly of drug use. All but a few come from broken homes.

Of the roughly 400 schools in a state that reveres boys high school basketball, none lost more last season than the 0-22 Medora Hornets, under the first-year coach Marty Young, the youngest head coach in the state.

Now 23, Young is not expecting many, if any, on-court victories during the season that starts on Saturday, either. But he counts wins and losses differently from most.

“If they’re in the gym these two hours, then I know they’re not in trouble,” Young said.

Poverty rates are high here, college graduates few. Drug use is rampant, several said, and many residents live in ramshackle trailer homes strewn about the hills that surround the checkerboard streets of the town. In these depressed times, there is little to cheer but the high school basketball team.

Except it does not win.

The lone basketball championship banner hanging in the gym dates to 1949. There has not been a winning season in decades. Counter to those sepia-toned images that outsiders have of small-town Indiana, the boys here rarely dream anymore of starring for the local team.

That is the unexpected predicament confronting Young, the kind of Indiana boy who grew up sleeping with a basketball. Indiana, after all, is the home of “Hoosiers,” the 1986 movie loosely based on the small-town 1954 Milan High team that beat all the bigger schools to win the state championship. Medora, about 65 miles west of Milan, could be this generation’s anti-Hoosiers.

“It used to be such a big deal,” said Maria Powell, born and raised in Medora and now the mother of one of the basketball players. She recalled postgame parties with classmates at a pizza place called The Covered Bridge — long since closed — when she was in high school. “Basketball was just what you lived for.”

Medora, with 16 members in the senior class, is the fifth-smallest public high school in Indiana. It is slowly shrinking, like the town of about 500 itself. Two of three large feed mills are gone. An automotive plastics factory employed several hundred until it closed in 1988. A brick plant on the edge of town died in 1992.

Now, if Branch has watched “Hoosiers,” he knows that one of Norman Dale’s bigger shocks in coming to small-town Hickory, Ind., is that only seven boys, counting the manager, come out for the basketball team. Also, he might have noted that there is an undercurrent to the whole movie about the future for schools like Hickory — consolidation and being erased from existence in the name of educational progress. (Recall, if you will, Ollie reading definitions of progress in Coach Dale’s history class.) In that context, Medora is Hoosiers II: The Downer Sequel.

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Medora High: the inspiration for Matthew Perry in “Hoosiers 2.”

Medora survived the first round of consolidation in the 1950s and 1960s, during which time the number of members in the Indiana High School Athletic Association dropped from a peak of 820 in 1942 to about half that by the dawn of the 1970s. Nationwide, the number of school districts dropped from 119,000 in 1939 to 16,000 in 1975 — a drop of 13 percent a year, every year, for 36 years.

Now Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels is trying to undertake Consolidation II: Educational Boogaloo. While a bill failed last year, Daniels again is expected to push that any district with fewer than 500 students be consolidated with a nearby district, while those between 500 and 1,000 students not meeting certain academic standards also be consolidated.

It’s part of the Republican Daniels’ so-far-unsuccessful effort to follow a report issued in 2007 by a commission, chaired by a former Democratic governor and a Republican-appointed Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice. Its recommendations talked about reducing government spending by reducing small but politically powerful jurisdictions like townships and school districts with fewer than 2,000 students. Hence, why they’ve been unsuccessful. (Though Daniels was able to get Indiana to adopt highly unpopular Daylight Saving Time and still get re-elected.)

Not all tiny school districts are created unsuccessful. Dewey Township schools in LaPorte County, in northern Indiana, with 161 students the state’s smallest district, has a basketball team that hovers close to .500 and offers programs like biomedical science. Of course, its student poverty rate of 7 percent is less than half of Medora’s 17 percent, and it also spends nearly $13,000 per student compared with Medora’s $7,500, which is well above the $5,500-$6,000 per student nearby, larger districts to Medora would spend. Dewey Township is an exception, though. Most tiny school districts are like Medora: a double-digit poverty rate, higher-than-usual per-student spending, and an isolated, rural location with a declining population.

Medora’s poverty rate is not much higher than the other schools in Jackson County, Ind., John Mellencamp’s home base. It’s just that with 278 students, every troubled student in Medora makes the school district that much more troubled. And with Medora spending more per student than any other Jackson County school, buttressing Daniels’ argument that districts like it would be better off combined with larger districts for more efficient spending. Small districts aren’t planning to operate wildcat schools, as Onward, Ind., famously did in the early 1950s, its citizens surrounding the school to prevent authorities from consolidating it, but they aren’t terribly happy about the idea of this second wave of consolidation.

But forget about academic or fiscal arguments for a moment. We’re talking basketball! And in those terms, it’s also getting harder for the tiniest districts to compete.

Indiana split its basketball into four classes starting with the 1997-1998, presumably to give the Medoras of the world a chance to get some trophies for their cases. (It so happened that Medora won its last sectional — the first round of the all-comers postseason tournament, in 1997, the final year of single-class basketball.) However, the IHSAA’s membership is starting to shoot upward again because of charter schools from the big cities and small private schools from everywhere (particularly established schools who stayed away from the single-class IHSAA for fear of being stomped), thus providing the tiny schools competition of equal student size by not equal athletic ability.

And particularly in these charter schools in urban districts, the players might have some of the same pathologies at work as they do in Medora, maybe worse. Except that they’re 6-foot-7 and can jump out of the gym. The idea Daniels has is not that small schools are bad — small school districts are. Milan, once home to the 1954 Miracle that inspired the movie “Hoosiers,” and which was not consolidated with other districts in the late 1950s and 1960s because of that success, now clocks about three wins per season.

So while it’s true that Medora’s economic problems and small size have turned Hoosier Hysteria into Hoosier Meh, the issue is a little more complicated than underwhelming kids being drawn from a community of ramshackle meth huts. The problem isn’t just that Medora’s basketball team has issues. The bigger problem is whether a tiny district like Medora is capable of fielding anything of quality when it comes to its schools, just by dint of its size. If Medora can’t prove itself, it won’t be long for this world, now matter how good or bad the basketball team is.

Written by rkcookjr

November 29, 2009 at 5:51 pm

School sports returns to Grove City, Ohio, despite its world-famous skinflints

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3254861927_a2f3e3262aYou here all this talk about “green shoots” in the desolate landscape that is our economy. So perhaps the greenest shoots are sprouting in Grove City, Ohio, America’s poster child for the desolate landscape that is the school sports economy.

Voters in the South-Western City Schools district, Ohio’s sixth-largest, on Nov. 3 passed — barely — a tax levy that the system said was necessary to keep extracurricular activities, including sports. Barely, as in 50.53 percent for to 49.47 percent against. But that was better than the 50.8-49.2 loss suffered Aug. 4, and previous votes in the 56-44 range. The turnout was 38,000 votes on Nov. 3 — about 6,000 more than for the Aug. 4 tax referendum.

After that Aug. 4 vote, the school board got South-Western, located in southwestern portion of the city of Columbus and nearby suburbs, unwanted national attention by canceling all extracurricular activites. The day after the Nov. 3 election, the school board, looking at $18 million they didn’t have previously, unanimously approved the contracts for 43 basketball, wrestling, swimming and gymnastics coaching positions, the day after the election, according to ThisWeek Community Newspapers in Columbus. The Ohio State High School Athletic Association is even waiving rules to allow athletes who transferred to other schools to come back without penalty. (The OSHAA has done this for other school districts that have dropped, then reinstated sports.)

I think it’s safe to say that after articles in USA Today, Sports Illustrated and other national press depicting the anti-tax voters of South-Western as the Grinch Who Stole Sports and the despondent athletes as Cindy Lou-Whos who weren’t going to see the good side of having no roast beast, a lot of voters were shamed into approving the levy, which adds $227 a year for every $100,000 of assessed property value.  (The amount of the levy requested was also slightly smaller than August’s request.)

Also, there probably were voters who, with the housing market bad enough, did not want to someday not be able to sell their house because South-Western had gotten a reputation as a place that hates children and hates schools.

My late father was as anti-tax as they come, but he (often grudingly) voted for every tax levy that was offered for schools, in part because his own children would benefit, but mainly because he knew that his property values were tied to the value of the school system. He might not have liked paying more taxes, but in his cost-benefit analysis he figured that was less than the property value hit he would take for a “no” vote.

It’s not a total happy ending for South-Western’s involved children. The school reinstated sports, but it also installed a pay-to-play system. According to ThisWeek, “[h]igh school athletics will cost $150 per participant per sport. Marching band will cost $100. Middle school athletics will cost $75 and clubs $20.”

Written by rkcookjr

November 5, 2009 at 10:37 pm

Will pay-to-play in school sports keep kids on the sidelines?

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It happened in 1991, it happened in 2002, and it’s really, really, really, really, really happening now. In recessionary times, public school districts begin charging fees for sports and other extracurricular activities. Except in Ohio’s sixth-largest school district, in southwest Columbus, which didn’t want its poorer children put in the position of being left out because of money, so it eliminated sports and activities for everyone.

But extreme equality — we treat you all like dogs — aside, scores of school districts are instituting fees for the first time, and they’re afraid that each dollar that has to come out of a parent’s pocket means one less student playing sports. In Loudon County, Va., one of the fastest-growing exurbs in the country during the housing boom, a $15 million budget gap means a $100-a-head fee per student, per sport. From the Loudon Times:

Park View football coach Andy Hill’s primary concern is that the fee might discourage athletes who think they are unlikely to see a lot of playing time.

“The starting varsity athletes will come up with a way to find the fee,” Hill said. “I think the big question is what about that second-tier player? What about that JV player?”

For the 2008-09 school year, the National Federation of State High School Athletic Associations reported that participation in high school sports had risen for the 20th straight year — 55.2 percent of all boys and girls, up from 54.8 percent in 2007-08. But pay-for-play was just beginning to trickle into places it had never trickled before. Also in the Washington Post story reporting these numbers was this foreboding paragraph:

According to a source at Montgomery County (Md.) public schools, however, sports participation in Montgomery dropped in 2008-09, down nearly 20 percent from 2007-08. A noticeable drop-off occurred in the winter and spring, once the economic downturn was clearly not a quick blip in the market. Furthermore, the source said the number of students who received a waiver of the county’s $30 athletic participation fee tripled from the previous year. According to a source at Montgomery County public schools, however, sports participation in Montgomery dropped in 2008-09, down nearly 20 percent from 2007-08. A noticeable drop-off occurred in the winter and spring, once the economic downturn was clearly not a quick blip in the market. Furthermore, the source said the number of students who received a waiver of the county’s $30 athletic participation fee tripled from the previous year. (Note: Montgomery raised its fee from $20 to $30 in 2007.)

That’s not a good sign for schools going from zero to $100 or $300 if a $30 fee is pricing out a lot of families. If you want another ominous sign, one northern California district that tried to get families of players to contribute to their the athletic department is now threatening cancellation of sports or forfeiture of games by teams with uncollected fees, because it’s so far behind the budgetary eight-ball.

There’s an argument that children who participate in extracurricular activities should help pay the freight. However, what these fees do is make school sports and activities like park district or private or club activities — something that skews toward people with money, leaving struggling families out in the cold. It’s a shame that in a public school, a child could not participate because of a fee, on top of the taxes the family already pays. Of course, sometimes the problem isn’t just a declining real-estate market killing property tax collections — in this economy, many residents are less likely to vote for a tax referendum that they ever were.

Are pay-to-play fees for sports and other activities keeping your kids from participating? Have you noticed any participation problems in your area because of this?

Written by rkcookjr

September 28, 2009 at 10:51 pm

Shocking news: school district, parents act civil in debate over coaches' conduct

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In Hickory, Ind., the high school basketball coach has to survive a round of interviews with the local hayseeds.

If David Jason Stinson thinks he’s going to get back into coaching and tell players he’s going to run them until everyone quits, he’s going to face a foe much more powerful than the Jefferson County, Ky., prosecutor  — parents.

Not that parents getting involved in hiring and firing coaches is new, but the latest pattern in complaints — a pattern that’s no surprise to the masses that fill up newspaper comment boards about how we’re turning our children into pussies — is whether a coach is being verbally abusive.

Even more disturbing, it appears parents and school districts are beginning to act like adults, working together to find solutions to the problems. What the hell, man? When did the comity of the State of the Union gallery and the screeching of school board meeting crowds switch places? Is it Opposite Day, and no one told me?

Here’s an example from Barnesville, Minn., where parents are questioning whether the high school coaches are properly Minnesota nice.

From the Forum in Fargo, N.D.:

A group of residents [in Barnesville] is calling on their school district to start soliciting parent feedback on the performance of coaches.

Parents sprung to action this summer after hearing that several Barnesville coaches might have used deprecating language [including profanity] toward students during practice – concerns they say athletes and parents are reluctant to voice for fear of retribution.

District officials have balked at the idea of a parent survey that would count toward coach evaluations. They point out the district has a streamlined system to handle complaints, and they scoff at the idea a coach’s livelihood should depend on input from adults who are generally not around at practice time.

The clash has spawned a well-attended parent meeting to air concerns, an open records request for district e-mails and, more recently, a compromise solution [to have student athletes fill out anonymous surveys created by parents and the district].

And all of this echoes a heated Minnesota debate over parental input about coach performance – to some, an out-of-line bid to micromanage; to others, a way to rein in a growing emphasis on winning in high school athletics.

“This has got to be the No. 1 hottest issue parents have in high school and junior high,” says Mary Cecconi of Parents United, a Minnesota parent advocacy group.

Parents and administrators are working together to create a solution? C’mon, Minnesota! Where’s the screaming! Where’s the outrage? Where are the signs depicting the athletic director as Stalin, Hitler and Castro?

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This is the kind of lameness that Minnesotans called a raucous health reform debate. You call this an angry mob?

Written by rkcookjr

September 23, 2009 at 11:54 pm