‘To the Point’ for 5/5/05


THE STATE’S NEW BUDGET hasn’t been kind to school corporations, and in particular small, rural corporations such as Switzerland County will be impacted negatively by reductions.

As the budget passed last week, school officials around the state began to scream about cuts in state funding and how those lost revenues will be made up at the local level.

In the central part of the state, one school corporation is considering a drastic step to help keep funding level.

Eastern Hancock High School sits just off of I-70 east of Indianapolis. Driving by motorists see a large, FFA logo painted on the door of the auto shop area; and corn and soybean fields surround the property.

It’s a lot like Switzerland County.

In Eastern Hancock there is a fear that the new state budget and school funding formula will cut deep into their system, so they are considering something that no one wants to do.

They may go to “Pay to Play” athletics.

Under the policy, if a student wants to participate in a school sport, each will come with a price tag. If you want your child to play football or volleyball or basketball; or if you want your child to run cross country or track or swim — then you’re going to have to put your money where your mouth is.

Each sport will have a price tag attached, and only those who pay the tab will get to participate. This is justified because athletics are extra curricular, so the school is only responsible for making sure that students get a quality education between the school bells.

If there’s no basketball program, then everyone will have to adjust to it.

The idea of making parents pay so that their children have the opportunity to play a sport is not a unique one. Other school systems around the country have tried similar plans in the past; with some being successful and some being disasters.

For those who believe that athletics has taken a too prominent position in our schools, it sounds like a balancing of the scales. For others, it kindles thoughts of tracking those funds and balancing the books.

Here’s a scenario: a set of parents has a child who’s not exactly what others might term as an “athlete”. They get their checkbook out and decide that junior is going to be the next Larry Bird — but when the season starts, everyone realizes that he’s actually closer to Big Bird.

So games roll by and junior is getting splinters from sitting on the pine; and at the end of a game the parents charge down the bleachers and confront the coach.

“We paid good money for Junior to play basketball, but so far we haven’t seen him get on the floor,” they argue.

“I have a responsibility to play our best players and try and win games,” the coach responds.

“We paid the same fee as everyone else, and we want equal value for our investment,” is the response.

The next thing you know, everyone is at the school board meeting. Parents are wanting refunds because their kid didn’t play as much; and there are rumors that some schools are offering “scholarship” money for kids to come and play for their teams.

(Not that anything like that could possibly happen around here.)

Another situation: The coaches are informed by school officials that equal payment means equal playing time. The stands are filled with fans who can’t understand why better players are on the bench while others are stumbling up and down the court at critical times.

Yes, athletics is extra curricular, but the reality of the situation is that athletics are how most schools identify themselves now.

I remember being at a conference once and a man spoke about schools. He said that if you want to know what’s really important to your school, walk in the front door and see what’s found in the main display case.

Sometimes it’s awards for academic excellence; other times it’s a state championship basketball trophy.

Really want to get everyone’s attention? Announce that all sports are being disbanded because of lack of funding. I guarantee that will rattle some emails in the State House.

I have a feeling that when all is said and done, Eastern Hancock and other schools in similar predicaments will find a way to get the funding so that the “Pay to Play” policy doesn’t have to be implemented. But the situation is that some difficult decisions will have to be made by school corporations around the state, including Switzerland County, as to how different programs that have always been thought to be “extra curricular” are funded.

It’s too bad that schools have to take such drastic measures before anyone bothers to listen to them.