The high cost of high school sports

There's a question no one in Washington state can answer: What is the total of taxpayer dollars allocated for education being used for athletic programs in public schools?

There are people in high-dollar public positions who will say they have the answer, but they don't. The amount of tax dollars spent on football, basketball, baseball, track, soccer, cheerleading and other sports programs at public schools is so high - so out of proportion to the educational needs - that no one wants it to be made public.

It is an embarrassingly high number.

Over the past five years or so, educational programs across the country have been scrutinized, sanitized and turned upside down by legislators, regulators and consultants. Not a state escaped the financial avalanche caused by 9/11 as deficits in state operating capital became the norm, even in those states that have laws mandating balanced budgets.

Without a doubt, education programs from coast to coast suffered. Staffing was cut and technological improvements were put on hold. Necessary building projects and other capital expenditures lost priority status while administrators and legislators regrouped and tried to bond together to find a solution.

It is a fact of life that school districts operate like government entities, for the most part. Few of them move faster than a snail's pace even when circumstances dictate a fast method of decision making is required.

Meanwhile, as schools lament the current hard times, they continue to field sports teams and pour money into athletic endeavors.

If Seattle School District Superintendent Raj Manhas were to detail expenditures annually in a State of the Fiscal State Address, chances are he will not (or can not) produce a complete, itemized list of expenditures for all athletic programs.

The reason is simple: Athletic funds, for generations, have been sloshed around in so many fiscal buckets that the "real" cost of athletics is not just blurry, but obscure.

For example, in many schools, coaches' salaries are not listed under "athletic" expenditure, but under staffing or administration, regardless of how many hours a particular coach may teach. Utilities, transportation, pre-game food, etc..., are usually not

Don't expect athletic directors to give an accurate number of funds expended on their sports programs: they just don't know it.

Other states are tackling the problem by eliminating sports altogether or charging a student fee for participation in a particular sport. The only radical part of this idea is that it goes against tradition.

Speaking of tradition, when exactly did sports competition and the high cost of public school athletics become part of the educational expenditure package?

Ask your local school district officials. There's no official ruling by any legislative or judicial body that mandates fielding sports teams are part of providing a quality education.

It's not about athletics vs. academics. It's all about priorities and children receiving a quality education.

Seattle resident George Smith is the former executive director of the WNPA. Write him a letter via[[In-content Ad]]