Cuts in Athletics Budgets Draw Fire from Communities

By Tom Mirga — September 07, 1981 2 min read

Under mounting pressure to make do with fewer dollars while simultaneously improving quality, most superintendents and school boards have been desperately searching for the least painful ways to reduce spending.

Some have focused on school athletic programs-cutting budgets, adding student fees in an attempt to defray costs, and even, in some cases, eliminating athletics altogether.

But their actions are producing reactions-generally swift and occasionally disapproving-from their communities. And school officials are finding that communities will go to great lengths to save their school sports.

In Warwick, R.I., the school system hasn’t budgeted a penny for athletic or other extracurricular activities this year, relying instead on the charity of two citizens’ groups. One of the groups, which pledged to raise $100,000 to save the programs, made it quite clear that it disliked being cast in the role of last minute savior. Spokespersons for the group say flatly that the school district shouldn’t expect another handout next year.

A similar group in Joliet, Ill., has raised $80,000 to salvage the local school district’s high school athletic and other extracurricular programs. The district has also instituted a $30 student activities fee.

‘Bare Bones’ Level

Enough money has been raised between those two sources of income to maintain the activities at “bare bones” levels this year, a school official said. No one in the community, however, can hazard a guess as to whether the group can come to the rescue again next year.

The passage of Proposition 2 ½ in Massachusetts eventually forced a $53,000 reduction in the Pittsfield Public Schools’ athletic budget for the upcoming year. Initially school officials thought they would have to eliminate the programs.

When that prospect was presented to an athletics advisory committee, its parent members were not only receptive to a fee of $10 paid by each student involved in sports, but insisted it be raised to $20.

Officials in Lexington, Va., also raised the specter of eliminating high school athletic programs in order to pare down this year’s budget, as did their counterparts in McMinnville, Ore., and Kittaning, Pa. Howls of pro test in all three communities, however, helped change their minds. The programs will continue as originally planned, although in some cases at reduced funding levels.

Many other school districts across the nation-including those in Tucson, Ariz., Fresno, Calif., Cleveland, Ohio, and Charleston, W. Va.-have grappled with the issue this year.

Officials in national athletic associations are not surprised by the intensity of community support for sports. They point to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which helped cement the importance of sports in schools by adding thousands of women’s sports programs to school athletic departments. And according to the National Center for Education Statistics, 75 percent of the class of 1980 participated in a school-related activity and 52 percent specified athletics.

A version of this article appeared in the September 07, 1981 edition of Education Week