Budget Cuts: Ideas abound to save sports


How to save our sports teams?:

The school board will soon be voting on whether or not to implement serious budget cuts that could mean the elimination of several sports from the Pittsburgh Public Schools system. This could include high school swimming, golf, and tennis; middle school swimming, volleyball, and wrestling; and all intramural sports including open gym for basketball and volleyball. Many students of the Pittsburgh Public Schools are likely to suffer as a result of the cuts, should they be implemented. According to Ms. Simmons, Pittsburgh Obama’s athletic director, “You can look at study upon study, and they all show the results. There is a positive correlation between students’ involvement in sports and their health, academic success, and social life.” The benefits of sports clearly outweigh the costs. Fortunately, there are several ways in which the Pittsburgh Public Schools can endeavor to keep its sports teams while maintaining a balanced budget.

Ms. Simmons proposes that, in order to save our sports program, we should create a contract with a corporation such as Nike. If we were to buy all of our sports equipment and uniforms from one company, and to advertise that we are doing this, that company would likely be willing to help us out with other budgetary needs. Such an alliance would benefit Nike as well as us. University and professional sports teams often have sponsors in this manner; and the amount of students in the Pittsburgh Public School system is similar to that of a medium-sized college. Yet our sports budget is far behind what the average college would give its sports teams.

In taking on a corporate sponsor, according to Ms. Simmons, the Pittsburgh Public Schools would be able to continue its sports teams as they are. Sports, she grants, are expensive. Just for swimming, for example, you need thousands of dollars of fixed costs in equipment, including starting blocks and a timing system. You also need money to hire a coach, pay for busses and referees for meets, buy insurance for the pool, heat the pool, fill the pool, and implement a sanitation system for the pool, on a continual basis. It is also preferable to have uniforms or even warm-ups for the athletes. It is likely that if we were to get a sponsor, they would provide us a portion of these costs free of charge.

There may be some disadvantages to corporate sponsorship. One disadvantage is that would limit market competition, leading towards monopoly or oligopoly in the sports equipment market. We would be obliged to buy only from one company for a certain number of years, even if there is a more attractive product from another company. Yet companies could compete over contracts such that once one companies contract runs out, we could either keep our business with them or turn to another company that offers us more or better help than the first one had.

Further, a corporate sponsorship would create a binding contract between our school and a company that may not always be in our interest. In theory, such a contract would be a relationship of equals: We advertise for them, and they help us out with costs. But in reality, we need a corporate sponsor more than any major company needs our advertising, a fact that they may be able to exploit to their advantage. However, if we ensure that the contract is fair to both parties, we would likely be able to avoid these issues.

So with our options as limited as they are, the disadvantages of a corporate sponsor are more than compensated in that it could allow for the existence success of Obama’s sports teams.

 Mark Rauterkus, who coaches the Obama boys’ swim team and the golf team, proposes another solution to the sports budget problem in the Pittsburgh Public School system. Rauterkus proposes that the sports teams should be absorbed by Citiparks, the Pittsburgh Parks and Recreation department. Citiparks has a separate budget and a separate set of rules from the Pittsburgh Public schools. If our sports teams were transferred to Citiparks, Rauterkus believes that programs could actually be added and improved. “Then we could have water polo, triathlons, varsity teams that could compete at the highest level,” Rauterkus explains. Current budgetary problems have heretofore prevented water polo and very competitive swim teams, and bureaucratic red tape has prevented us from holding triathlons. Citiparks would be more prepared to handle Pittsburgh Public’s sports needs than PPS currently is.

 Further, Mr. Rauterkus proposes that we have community events that could gain money for the Pittsburgh sports teams. He believes that the school system could make as much as $50,000 per year solely on Obama’s pool through having community swim lessons and events. This amount could more than compensate for the annual costs of running the pool. Further, if this idea were applied to every school pool in the district, its benefits could be multiplied.

Community lessons and events are costly upfront. For lessons, the cost of insurance would go up dramatically, as would the cost of maintenance. Any major event takes money to plan and organize, and to clean up after. Yet the benefits that such lessons or events could provide to the schools could be well worth it.

 Finally, another idea for helping save the PPS sports is to increase the amount of tax dedicated to the issue. Increasing taxes is always controversial. But Pittsburgh successfully applied a similar technique a few years ago in order to save the public library system. There was a referendum on the ballot that asked whether Pittsburghers would be willing to increase the millage dedicated to libraries. The majority voted ‘yes,’ and since then the libraries have been able not only to begin paying off millions of dollars of debt, but also to expand services and hours.

 And, in addition to increasing taxes, if the City were to begin taxing UPMC at a level appropriate to a company of its size, we would be able to bring in further revenue that could make a serious contribution towards the Pittsburgh school system. Classified as a ‘non-profit organization,’ UPMC currently pays zero corporate taxes; it also holds many expensive properties that are not taxed, including the UPMC building downtown. It seems to be a common sense solution that UPMC should pay its fair dues, rather than continuing to give its extra revenue to top executives in the form of multi-million dollar salaries and private helicopters.

 Despite these ideas, the options available to those concerned with saving PPS sports are limited. The school system does not allow schools to sign corporate sponsorship contracts; they do not allow for community lessons or events that would gain revenue on the scale that Mr. Rauterkus proposes; and increasing taxes is an all but forbidden topic in politics. Certainly, there is no perfect idea for saving our school’s sports teams; yet all ideas should be on the table at this point.

Before eliminating programs that have such direct, meaningful, and lasting positive impacts on students, it is necessary to carefully consider, discuss, debate, and compromise, on possible ways to prevent such cuts from happening. Because it is more than likely that, with a combination of the ideas presented above and further ideas not discussed in this article, that the Pittsburgh Public Schools could find a way keep its sports teams while keeping a balanced budget. All those concerned with the fate of PPS sports are hoping that the school board, the city council, and Mayor Peduto, will keep this in mind.