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Pay Gap Between Coaches, Teachers Detailed

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A new survey showing that top-division interscholastic football coaches in Texas are paid, on average, nearly 75 percent more than teachers has ignited debate across a state where high school football enjoys enormous community support.

The recent review of salaries by The Associated Press found average pay for the top-tier football coaches is $54,000, compared with $31,000 for teachers.

"It says that school boards in a lot of places place more value on athletics than academics," Richard C. Kouri, the president of the Texas State Teachers Association, said last week.

"I hope this will focus attention on what should be the core issue: not what head football coaches are making, but that a state with an awful lot of resources is 36th in the nation as far as teachers' salaries," he said.

The AP analyzed salaries from the 1995-96 school year for 428 schools in the top two interscholastic divisions, or 44 percent of the high schools in the state that field football teams. It found that the state's best-paid teacher, a now-retired Houston ROTC instructor with 28 years' experience, made $63,086 for his 12-month contract.

Art Briles, who has led Stephenville High School to two 4A football championships, was identified as the highest-paid coach in the state. In addition to his base salary of $73,000, Mr. Briles said he earns nearly $10,000 in bonuses and expenses. Like some other top coaches, Mr. Briles is also the athletic director for the suburban Fort Worth district's high school, junior high, and intermediate schools--a position, he said, that often requires him to work 80-hour weeks year round. But he has no academic teaching responsibilities.

Mr. Briles, whose wife is a 3rd grade teacher, said he thinks that teachers should be paid more, but that the demands of his job justify his high paycheck.

"Coaches in Texas, we lay our abilities and our products on the line on a weekly and seasonal basis," he said in an interview last week. "If you're successful you are rewarded; if not, you can get fired."

The coach also noted that his team brings in thousands of dollars in gate receipts to offset the costs of fielding a team.

Austin Sets Scale

The Texas legislature sets coaches' and teachers' minimum wages based on years of experience. Local districts have the option of setting salaries, for both coaches and teachers, anywhere at or above the minimum, which currently is $19,500 for full-time, first-year educators.

The legislature in its last session raised the minimum salary from $17,500, the first such increase in eight years, Mr. Kouri said.

Meanwhile, veteran teachers with master's degrees who also take on after-school advisory duties are likely to see their wages climb only into the $40,000 range, Mr. Kouri said.

The passion for football in Texas may give school officials little choice in allocating their resources, according to Skip Bayless, a former long-time newspaper columnist who writes extensively on the sport in his home state.

"High school football is part of the fabric of the state. It is truly a Friday-night event in every single community," Mr. Bayless said. "Unfortunately it's also become fairly big business on the high school level, because the coach in almost every community is under extreme pressure to produce a winner."

But Ronald Bradberry, the school board president of the Stephenville district, said that the perceived emphasis on winning is a myth. He said his district was fortunate to find Mr. Briles, who has brought more focus to the school system's numerous sports and activities programs and enhanced their quality.

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