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Ohio School District Considers Eliminating Sports

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A school district in suburban Cleveland could cut its athletics teams indefinitely in the face of a steep budget deficit, an official said Friday.

The Richmond Heights School Board plans to discuss eliminating sports teams at its upcoming meeting on Monday, said board president Charles Tyler.

This year's spring sports have already been called off in the financially ailing district, leaving students without track, softball and baseball teams. The cuts saved the schools an estimated $50,000, Tyler said.

The district faces a projected $346,000 deficit in the fiscal year starting July 1. Cutting all sports — including football, basketball and volleyball — would save an estimated $240,000.

The savings would allow the district to focus on academics and live within its budget, Tyler said.

"It's the failing of six levies back to back that put us in this situation, and we're not looking to put another levy proposal out there right now," he said.

The board will also discuss reducing school bus routes in order to preserve cash. About 1,000 students are enrolled in the suburban district east of Cleveland.

The district has not considered using "pay-to-play" athletics in which fees of $500 or more could be charged to students who want to play. Such fees would prevent some students from participating, Tyler said.

"I personally think sports is important to building character and leadership skills, so keeping our sports would serve many purposes," Tyler said. "That is my hope. But we have to have a balanced budget."

The complete elimination of sports in a public school district has seldom occurred, said Bruce Howard, spokesman for the Indianapolis-based National Federation of State High School Associations. Howard could not name any schools that have done so.

"In most cases the percent a school district spends on athletics is 1 to 3 percent of a budget, and yet it becomes an easy target when cuts need to be made," Howard said. "I hope they are able to salvage it."

Some schools in New York have cut athletics costs by reducing the number of games on the schedule, Howard said.

Bob Goldring, a spokesman for the Ohio High School Athletic Association, said he's not aware of any Ohio school district dropping all sports since schools in Xenia, in southwest Ohio, tried it briefly in the early 1990s.

"In the last several years we have heard about situations in which school boards talk about cutting back on sports as a selling point of schools trying to pass their school levies," Goldring said.

Scott Ebright, spokesman for the Ohio School Boards Association, said eliminating sports is a last resort, and sometimes booster groups add support to help fund school athletics and participation fees.

A community education summit is planned for March 29 to urge fresh ideas, including viable ways to handle sports costs, Tyler said.

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