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Athletic programs, assistant coaches on the chopping block at BCHS

SBDM Members Darryl Dockery, Dennis Robbins, Stacha Murphy, and Rhoda Chism

A proposal  to eliminate seven athletic teams at Butler County High School was the main topic of discussion at yesterday's monthly meeting of the school's site-based decision making council. The programs in jeopardy are golf, tennis, soccer  - both male and female teams - and volleyball.  According to Principal Patrick O'Driscoll, the issue comes down to cutting athletics to save teachers. Specifically, he said the matter boiled down to the question: "How could we be having sports when we're losing academics?" Site-base policy requires the principal to inform and receive approval from the council before any changes are made to athletic programs.

O'Driscoll started off the discussion about the possible dissolution of certain athletic programs by saying, "Everyone should know that we're in the hole big time. We overspent, we are projected to overspend $300,000 every year, we got cut $380,000 . . . so we're about $650,000 in the hole to finish this year." O'Driscoll went on to explain that after factoring in the projected shortfall for next year in addition to what is already owed, the school system will be over $900,000 in debt.

"We were not told how many teaching spots we would be losing, but I thought I would jump out there and start trying to look for any help," said O'Driscoll, "I had this idea, 'How can we be having sports when we're losing academics?'"

O'Driscoll put before the site-based council a proposal that he thinks could help the school avoid losing a teacher and sacrificing academics: he proposed that the school look at cutting several sports programs. Three of the programs O'Driscoll proposed be cut collected a combined four-year average of $3,206 from admissions, while the other four did not collect admissions at all. The proposed programs were boys and girls soccer, volleyball, boys and girls golf, and boys and girls tennis.

Another optional extracurricular activity that may be eliminated is the academic team. Assistant Principal Michael Gruber said of the academic team, "I coached the academic team for 14 years, it was always a spot for me. My daughter was on it this year and I love having her on it, but in reality when you look at numbers and expenses, you're spending that money on 15 kids. It's hard to justify paying stipends and transportation costs when you see so few students involved." He added later, "My hope would be that if we do something like this, we would look at it the next year in the hopes that we could bring these back."

Also included in the proposal was the loss of one assistant coach for each of the remaining sports programs offered at BCHS: football, boys and girls basketball, baseball, softball, track and cross country, and cheerleading.

The remaining sports would be asked to cut their transportation costs in addition to the loss of an assistant. The example O'Driscoll used was the football team. He said that three buses will take the team and sit through an entire game and two will drive home empty. He would propose that three would go and two would come back immediately. The use of school vans was also discussed at length.

Cutting these seven programs, the assistant coaching positions, and the academic team could save the board approximately $46,000. O'Driscoll later added that either volleyball or girls soccer may have to be kept to meet Title IX requirements from the KHSAA. He said that he had been in touch with KHSAA Assistant Commissioner Darren Bilberry on the matter and would know more at a later date.

Another potential avenue for saving money that O'Driscoll has explored is reevaluating section 7 funds. Section 7 money is allocated by the local school district to individual schools/SBDM councils, which then is appropriated to specific programs. Butler County High School receives $35,000 in section 7 money from the board to help pay for general athletics, choir, and band. Currently, the athletics department receives $26,000, choir receives $4,000, and the band receives $5,000. O'Driscoll proposes an increase in the band allocation to $8,000, running the athletics department on around $10,000, while choir receives the same. These changes could free up about $13,000 in section 7 money that could be used to help save a teaching position.

"This is not going to be popular, okay. My first thought is I cannot support this much athletic money if we're cutting teachers jobs," said O'Driscoll. He asked the site-based council to consider his proposal as a road map that could be changed, then he could move forward with meeting with Mr. Howard and finalizing the Title IX issues before the March SBDM meeting.

"I'm going to get beat up over this, but I'm willing to do it for academics and another person's job," said O'Driscoll.

The use of vans, a way to potentially cut the transportation costs of extracurricular programs, was discussed. BCHS boys golf head coach and SBDM member Dennis Robbins pointed out that he loads himself, six boys, and six golf bags into one of the vans and travels to all away matches that way. BCHS music teacher and choir director Darryl Dockery stated that he utilized a van when taking small numbers of students to choir competitions instead of a bus.

"I know what's going to happen, you're going to go through and cut all of this, and then the complaints are going to come in," said Dockery, "Then they will either throw you (O'Driscoll) under the bus, or van, and then they'll go ahead and fund it. Then we get the numbers . . ."

"And then we'll have to cut a teacher or two," added Rhoda Chism, parent representative on the BCHS SBDM council.

Once the school began cutting teachers, O'Driscoll said that would mean losing programs. He said the school was getting graded on program reviews, on college and career readiness and cutting teachers would affect these grades. O'Driscoll said that Butler County is the only county in the area that is ahead on career readiness and losing a teacher would affect our careers program, and that would affect the students who do not attend college. He reiterated that the school is not graded on sports; it is graded on academics.

Several council members questioned when Central Office would start cutting back. One member remarked, "They're paying people who could retire." Another member suggested they receive a "change in environment" with a chance to get back into the classroom for awhile. The members agreed that the money some Central Office employees make is enough to pay for two teachers.

O'Driscoll asked the council if he could move forward with exploring his proposal even more in depth to see how much money can really be saved by eliminating these athletic programs, as well as coaching positions and transportation costs. Chism made a motion to approve and after some discussion, the council unanimously approved that O'Driscoll move forward with the proposal.

Also discussed at the meeting were the approval of the FCCLA trip to the State Meeting in Louisville, the Arts and Humanities Mid-Year Program Review by Dockery, the discussion of earbud/headphones use during school, GRREC Data Analysis Conference Update, and the monthly financial report from Gina Givens.

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Story and photos by Katie Kirby, Beech Tree News.

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