When the Sylvan Union School District athletics budget was cut in half this year, parent Tim Berry thought the solution was simple -- recruit parents and community members as unpaid volunteers to coach the district's sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade teams.
"I don't think going to a total- volunteer coaching staff is going to work, but I think sports offer a wonderful avenue for some of these other kids -- they motivate them, and I'd hate to see that go away," said Berry, a father of five children, two of whom play sports at Somerset Middle School.
But Berry encountered more roadblocks than he anticipated.
In the fall, the district's three middle school principals sent a memo listing seven reasons that volunteer coaches won't work, shutting down proposals like Berry's for this school year.
Superintendent John Halverson said officials would consider using community volunteers next school year. He noted that some sports had started play and it was too late to change direction.
The topic is sure to come up more often as districts throughout the region trim or eliminate sports, clubs, music and drama to deal with drastic cuts in education funding wrought by the recession.
Considered extras by many educators, those programs keep many students involved in school.
But volunteering at a school is not as easy as some might think. Volunteer coaches must have cardiopulmonary resuscitation and first-aid training, as well as a coach training certification.
And most districts have policies that give coaching preferences to staff. When a coaching vacancy occurs, that school's certified employees -- teachers, for example -- get first crack. Next up are certified staff at other schools, and if no one is interested, classified employees -- such as bus drivers or custodians -- can apply.
If districts start using volunteers, employee unions fear the coaching stipends for staff will disappear.
Sylvan Union officials trimmed stipends and other costs for sports when they confronted budget cuts in the spring. Coaches earn stipends of $921 to $1,843, depending on the sport.
Each of the three middle schools decided which sports to downsize for their campus. Sixth-grade teams -- except track and cross country -- were eliminated at all three.
Some of the stipends are being paid by the schools' student body accounts. That fund and parent-teacher associations are picking up the tab for clubs because that budget was cut in half.
In the memo opposing volunteer coaches, principals cited a few concerns. They said they spent considerable time and energy making sports programs that balanced gender, age, and fall, winter and spring seasons, and maintaining equity among schools.
Principals also said volunteers require more supervision and aren't as familiar with discipline, behavior and academic eligibility as school staff.
Still looking for a way to continue Sylvan athletics, another solution Berry proposes is renting school gyms, courts and fields to area recreation leagues to make money.
"There's a need there and a demand there," he said. "Especially with the YMCA closing, rec entities need facilities."
Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2339. Read Hatfield's education blog at thehive.modbee.com/ExtraCredit.