Two professional sports teams have stepped up to save athletic programs in the Cleveland public schools from budget cuts that threatened to eliminate football and baseball in the district.
A $300,000 donation from the Cleveland Browns of the National Football League is the largest onetime donation made to the city’s school system from a professional team. The gift means that nine high school football teams that would have had their seasons canceled this coming school year will now be able to play.
The donation comes on top of $250,000 chipped in by the Cleveland Indians baseball team in February that kept the city’s baseball and softball programs afloat.
District officials have been forced to slash $150 million from the schools’ $600 million budget over the past two years, and more than 1,000 teachers have been laid off because of financial troubles. Last fall, voters rejected a tax levy that would have raised $68 million for the schools. Like many other urban districts, Cleveland has lost funding as families have left for charter and private schools and state education aid has shrunk.
The donation by the football team was announced last month at the Browns’ headquarters. John Collins, the team’s president, joined Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the chief executive officer of the school system, at the announcement attended by Cleveland student-athletes and several Browns players.
Alan Seifulla, the chief communications officer for the 65,000-student district, said the Browns’ gift also allows some dollars to be used to maintain summer school for high school seniors who still need to pass Ohio’s proficiency exams. While the district is pleased with the gift, Mr. Seifulla said, its financial status remains a serious concern.
Bob Gardner, the chief operating officer for the Indianapolis-based National Federation of State High School Associations, said that while he doesn’t know of any other pro teams that have bailed out athletic programs to the extent of the Cleveland teams, more districts are looking to private businesses to help such programs.
“The move to corporate support is prevalent across the country,” he said. “Our preference would be that it not come to that, but we are grateful for the support.”