The amount that Modesto City Schools spends on equipment for its sports teams, coaching stipends and on facilities has already been cut. But Modesto's seven public high schools are being told to cut more — even if it means trimming freshmen and junior varsity programs, or eliminating some sports altogether.
Athletic directors are working on a plan that will go to Modesto City Schools' administrators soon, but there's no way of knowing what the plan includes or when it will be made available for public discussion.
District officials will not discuss the plan until it has been finalized, while athletic directors say the district has forbidden them from discussing any poltential cutback of athletics.
When the proposal is sent to the district, Superintendent Arturo Flores and the elected school board will have the final say when determining how much money to allot for athletics from a total annual budget of about $225 million. The board's options are completely open, from accepting the recommendations to devising a different plan to leaving athletics untouched.
The district had projected a $250 million budget for the 2010-11 school year, but needs to cut $25 million to avoid a deficit. Athletic programs received only $840,000 from the district this school year, a 10 percent cut from the previous year.
The only indication of what athletic directors are planning is in a memo circulated between school officials. The Bee has a copy, and these are the options listed for discussion in the memo:
Ending freshman sports.
Eliminating the so-called "country club" sports of golf, tennis and swimming.
Eliminating so-called "non-revenue" sports such as cross country, soccer, track.
Draining the five on-campus swimming pools, including the Downey aquatics center that the district spent $3.6 million renovating last year.
Retaining only sports that generate significant money from ticket sales, though no sport produces enough revenue to cover all of its costs.
The memo provides scant details beyond the list.
The Bee asked 20 coaches what they thought of the options in the memo. Those who responded said that school officials ordered the coaches not to discuss the budget situation.
Modesto isn't the only district in the Sac-Joaquin Section considering eliminating or altering its sports programs. Districts in Elk Grove and Lodi face similar dilemmas, according to Section spokesman Will DeBoard. So the Section — which reaches from Merced to north of Sacramento — is developing its own contingencies, hoping districts will not be forced to slash programs entirely.
For instance, the Section's Board of Managers will vote Wednesday on a plan to allow two or more schools to merge athletes on one team.
Such teams would play in the regular season, but not in the playoffs. A soccer team drawn from two schools would be ineligible for postseason competition.
Athletes competing in sports such as golf, tennis and wrestling would belong to a combined team, but would represent their home school in the playoffs, according to the Section's proposal. For example, a wrestler at Enochs could compete on a team made up of wrestlers from Downey, Beyer and Modesto in the regular season. But in the playoffs he would represent only Enochs.
The Section's view is that student-athletes could attend classes at their current school, and still play sports that their school no longer offers.
The Section's plan is loosely based on the "magnet school" model, which allows students to switch schools for academic opportunities. Modesto High has the International Baccalaureate program and Enochs has a forensic and biotechnology program — academic programs open to students from throughout the district. The difference: Kids change schools to take part in academic programs. But the section would allow athletes to stay at their current school for classes and play sports at a different school.
If approved, the proposal would go to the California Interscholastic Federation, which governs high school sports statewide. The CIF sets eligibility requirements and current rules say students can play only for the school they attend. If a school cancels a sport, students who transfer are eligible for a waiver that allows them to immediately play for their new school under CIF rules.
The Section's proposal is novel for California, but it is already in place in Nebraska: Two high schools merged football programs last season due to declining enrollments. The Section hopes this option could be available by the 2010-11 school year.
Modesto's six existing high schools offer 17 sports at each campus — Gregori High will open in August and its athletic director is part in the budget discussion. If the district opted to form teams under the section's plan, the number of sports could remain at 17. It could require the district to decide which schools offer which sports, based on quality of facilities, student interest, coaching expertise and a particular program's historic success, among other factors.
Some decisions appear easier than others:
Downey and Johansen are home to the district's two football fields and two regulation pools for swimming and water polo, for example, and could be among the schools to keep those sports.
Modesto has a rich tradition in track and boys basketball — Panther Palace has been athletic landmark for decades — so it could offer both.
Beyer and Davis have pristine baseball diamonds and a history of success, and could be baseball schools.
Enochs recently opened with tennis courts and a gym, and could field tennis and basketball, among other sports.
If the number of schools offering specific teams were reduced, it is clear that the number of spaces available on those teams would be limited reducing opportunities for participation. Still, the plan could allow Modesto to offer all 17 sports and still make significant budget cuts. If it offers each sport at only five campuses instead of seven, for example, it could cut the athletic budget by roughly 25 percent due to fewer coaches to pay, less equipment to buy, fewer teams to transport.
Bee staff writer Richard T. Estrada can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2300.