Do sports help educate our kids? Olympic gold medalist Mia Hamm thinks so. She said, "Sports can do so much. They've given me a framework for meeting new people, confidence, self-esteem, discipline and motivation. All these things I learned, whether I knew it or not, was through sports."
Recently, a group of at least 150 people gathered for a special meeting of the Coeur d'Alene School Board. My heart and mind were in conflict as I listened to the public testimony from teachers, coaches and parents. My brain knows that a huge chunk of money has to be cut from the district's budget. The state is planning a 5.4% reduction for schools in 2010 and our district is now trying to find $5 million dollars in budget savings before coming to the public with the routine Maintenance and Operations (M&O) levy this Spring.
Last month, the district's volunteer Finance Panel, made up of retired businessmen with budget and education backgrounds, after serious research, offered 20 suggestions for cost cutting. The school board will now systematically review each possibility during a series of public meetings. Kudos to the district for this open and inclusive plan.
Sports and activities were the last item on this past meeting's agenda. Other cost cutting options were discussed first, most notably health insurance benefits. The CdA school district currently pays 78% of the medical and dental premiums for all district employees, as well as their spouses and children. They even cover part-time people and provide life insurance benefits too.
"Rich" is the word the district's Human Resources Director used to describe the current benefits package; it is over and above what nearby school districts pay, she said. (As a small business owner, I will tell you it is certainly higher than most businesses can provide.) The HR Director told the board that nearby school districts provide insurance for their employees only. She said our district could save over $2 million dollars by switching to employee-only coverage, and close to $1 million more by insuring only full time people.
With those possible savings in mind, my heart went out to those standing to beg the school board for care in any cutbacks to sports and activities. Teachers and coaches spoke passionately about the benefits of sports and activities in motivating student attendance. They said students bond with their team or club and those loyalties are often the reason students show up for school, especially those in the greatest need.
Attendance is critical and is directly connected with money. The district is paid by the state for Average Daily Attendance (ADA). If the kids don't come to school, the district loses anticipated money. If the district loses money, local taxpayers are asked to pay more. Therefore, attendance is important to us all.
Of course, the highest attendance value is for the students. Learning is the key to their future and sports can offer learning unavailable in the classroom. All four of our academically successful children were involved in sports and other clubs in high school. There is no doubt in my mind that the discipline of early morning and after school team practices built their inner confidence and work ethic, which dovetailed well with their classroom efforts. Our kids noticed this themselves and told me their grades and overall satisfaction were highest when they were most involved.
The school board has a difficult job ahead. Every budget cut will leave someone unhappy. My hope is that they will keep the students foremost in this process. Learning is a gift that keeps giving throughout their lives. The economy may be in a tight spot right now but let's make sure we do our best to ensure the continued success of our children.