By Kevin Posival
Killeen Daily Herald
School districts throughout Texas are cutting almighty dollars from all-powerful athletic programs in the wake of a $4 billion loss in state education funds meted by the Texas Legislature this summer.
"With the cutbacks that we've had, that money has to be more highly scrutinized than maybe what it's been in the past," said Tom Rogers, athletics director for the Killeen Independent School District. "You have to look at 'what can I do without?' That really breaks down to a lot of different things to a lot of different sports."
Of the seven school districts in the Herald's coverage area, Copperas Cove and Salado are the only two that increased their 2011-12 athletic budgets. The others - Belton, Florence, Gatesville, Killeen and Lampasas - decreased sports budgets between 2 and 22 percent.
While Copperas Cove's overall athletic budget increased about $20,000 - less than 1 percent from the $4.27 million it actually spent in 2010-11 to a projected $4.29 million in 2011-12 - Jack Welch, the district's athletic director, cut almost 6.5 percent from the "discretionary" portion of that amount.
"Part of (the athletic budget) he can't control," said Robert Edmonson, business services director for the Copperas Cove school district. "He doesn't set the salaries. He doesn't set the stipends. He doesn't set the police charges to be at the game, but he has (control over) a portion of his budget, and that's the portion that was cut."
Welch trimmed Cove's athletic budget from $812,000 in 2010 to $760,000 in 2011. The bulk of the $70,000 difference between what Welch saved and what the district administration added is spent on the Bulldawgs' and Lady Dawgs' now-commonplace postseason success.
"We have to pretend like when we build the budget, that they're going to go all the way, whatever that is," said Cove Superintendent Rose Cameron.
Edmonson agreed, adding that "the post-district budget is something we have to guess at. Keep in mind, a budget is just that - it's money you set aside (that) you think you might spend. If that money's not spent, (it) goes back into the general fund."
Despite facing a deficit of at least $700,000 next year, Salado's athletic budget increased more than 7 percent, from $208,801 in 2010-11 to $223,802 in 2011-12 in large part because of $11,000 in start-up costs for its new soccer program.
Salado Superintendent Michael Novotny said the decision to add the soccer program was made before the district knew the budget cuts it would face.
"I still feel that it is a great program for kids," said Novotny who is in his first year as head of the school district. "A lot of them are kids that have not been in another athletic program, which is a fantastic opportunity for them to get plugged into the school and physical fitness and teamwork, dedication and all those things."
Layoffs in Cove, Killeen
In early November, Copperas Cove school officials announced they would have to eliminate 57 positions, including 22 teachers, for the 2012-13 school year as the result of a $4 million shortfall.
"We haven't identified those folks yet. They may or may not be coaches, so their program may get hit again if there happens to be a teacher in a position that we identify that's also a coach," said Cameron.
Last week, the Copperas Cove school board agreed to dip into the district's fund balance to help alleviate its deficit, but layoffs still may be required.
The Killeen school district eliminated more than 150 professional positions, including teachers, earlier this year but was awarded a $6.2 million Education Jobs Act Fund in May. The district then called to rehire more than 70 special education positions as well as the hiring of 53 elementary teachers who previously would have been eliminated. Of the 127 people who were ultimately affected, 87 reapplied and 54 were rehired.
Despite facing even more budget cuts in 2012-13, school districts still envision trimming enough to keep the state's financial crisis as far removed from the students as possible.
Athletic and budget directors have combed through sports expenses and trimmed things, such as non-district, non-football travel expenses, student-athlete meals, press box amenities and uniform replacement cycles.
The Killeen district cut its athletic budget from about $2.06 million in 2010-11 to less than $1.8 million in 2011-12.
"People are getting creative and still getting in their games, but I really feel like the budget cuts overall have hurt some single independent school districts more than it's hurting bigger school districts," said Rogers. "We cut 14.99 percent from our athletic budget - that's a big number."
Creating a void
For Cameron in Copperas Cove, athletics is a branch of extracurricular activities and if cut, would create a void for students. "Kids are getting their (physical education) credits and that type of thing through the athletic program," she said. "It's not like you can just cut a program and then not have to fill that void with another PE teacher or something like that."
Athletics have become as much a part of the education process in Texas as standardized tests, even if lessons learned in sports programs are not taught in traditional classrooms.
"Whether you're talking athletics, whether you're talking band, any of the extracurricular activities that we can get students involved in, it's good for the kids - it helps educate that whole child," said Cameron. "You can't remove anything from a school system where there's not some affect to it."
Programmatically, the Copperas Cove district cut its various departments about 5 percent across the board in preparation for the state's cutbacks, and it's not the only district that faced reductions.
In Salado, Novotny said: "We had to go back to every department - not just athletics but across the board - every campus, department and go back and look for areas to cut as much as we could while still making sure we have enough (funds) in every area to provide an excellent education for the kids and for those athletics programs as well."
Contact Kevin Posival at email@example.com or (254) 501-7562.
Area school district sports budgets
District 2010-11 2011-12 Change
Belton $686,550 $670,000 -2.41%
Copperas Cove $2,473,707 $2,492,968 0.78%
Florence $102,500 $99,550 -2.88%
Gatesville $361,082 $309,343 -14.33%
Killeen $2,059,159 $1,797,366 -12.71%
Lampasas $1,142,652 $880,548 -22.94%
Salado $208,801 $223,802 7.18%
A&M Consolidated $993,714 $981,724 -1.21%
Bryan $1,079,349 $1,049,270 -2.79%
Burnet $873,291 $808,485 -7.42%
Little River-Academy $376,287 $382,977 1.78%
Lorena $440,723 $419,444 -4.83%
Temple $768,679 $744,303 -3.17%
Note: The Herald obtained budget amounts from each school district through the Freedom of Information Act. Districts should not be compared as each district includes different items in their respective sports budgets.