Would schools dare cut athletics?

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 9, 2010

Natchez taxpayer Bob Buie Sr. had an answer to one of the Natchez-Adams School District’s nagging problems last week during the district’s annual tax hearing.

Buie came to voice his concerns about the school board’s pitch to raise taxes, but he may have stumbled upon one solution to the district’s struggles with parental involvement.

“Where does this all stop?” Buie asked about what many see as the district’s inclination to raise taxes rather than trim costs.

The Adams County resident gave his list of suggestions to school board members a week ago. Many of the ideas were similar to other proposals offered that afternoon. Yet there was one idea that stood out from the rest.

“Have you considered suspending or reducing all athletic programs?” Buie asked.

Not surprisingly, that suggestion was met with complete silence.

Can you imagine? In an area where God, country and football form a popular trinity, eliminating all athletic programs in the district would raise the ire of most residents.

My suspicion is that resistance would not come from the same group of residents that have been filling up the school district’s board room lately.

My guess is that parents and relatives of students, not retirees on fixed-incomes, would fill up the room so fast that the school board would be forced to move its regular meeting to the Braden auditorium.

It’s a scenario I think the school board would want to avoid.

It would also be a scene you rarely see in the district — a large group of parents actively involved in their children’s school lives.

Schools across Mississippi and the entire country are considering cuts to athletics to counter the reduction in funding from state and federal governments.

Not surprisingly, they are meeting vocal resistance.

Take Mansfield High School in Massachusetts for example. In April, the school board voted to eliminate all of its athletic programs in an effort to close a huge budget gap. They did this despite hugely successful girls and boys basketball programs.

The reaction was immediate. Parents organized phone campaigns and school protests.

Readers of the local newspaper Web site lamented that few parents ever appeared at hearings on teacher cuts or tax increases. Yet when athletics cuts make the agenda, parents arrive in force.

My guess is if Natchez-Adams schools ever seriously contemplate cutting athletics, area reaction would be just as vehement.

Soon after the protests began, the Mansfield school board found other methods to close the budget gap. High school athletics were quickly reinstated.

In that respect, Bob Buie’s proposal seems absurd. Yet the numbers tell a different story. Cutting out the budgetary item set aside for athletics would cut out more than the $300,000 the school board asked Superintendent Anthony Morris Thursday to cut out of the current budget.

Perhaps athletic program cuts or other budgetary sacred cows should be on the agenda so the Natchez-Adams School District school board will get serious about cutting the budget.

More importantly, perhaps such proposed cuts would spur apathetic parents into action.

Ben Hillyer is the Web editor of the Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by e-mail at ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.