With Nevada’s Legislature convening in Carson City and saddled with the task of allocating a smaller funding pot, public officials are on the edge of their seats waiting to see just how many or how few dollars they’ll have at their disposal.
School athletic officials are certainly among that group. And while the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association, the state’s governing body for high school sports, does not get its funding directly from the state, it goes as the state’s schools go. So NIAA officials are indeed watching with bated breath as well.
The organization’s Executive Director Eddie Bonine was at the state basketball tournament this past weekend and admitted funding and potential, if not impending, cuts are a hot topic. He is continually trying to emphasize that prep athletic funding is money well spent.
“I’m gathering data for the schools and I truly believe it will show that 98 percent of athletes graduate, much higher than the overall figure,” Bonine said.
He went on to say that if athletic funding went away, and there were no high school sports, that graduation rates would likely drop lower to a dismal figure.
“I’m not saying you have to be an athlete to graduate, but any downturn in funding for athletics would affect graduation rates and it would not be good,” he said.
Bonine said there 40,000 student athletes in Nevada and that the NIAA holds 135 regional championship events and another 60 state championship events. Washoe County School District figures show about 6,800, or 17 percent, of those athletes reside in Washoe County schools.
Bonine made the comparison that Reno’s Washoe High School, an alternative education site for many students at risk of failing to graduate, has an annual budget of close to $2 million dollars. He said there are about 200 students enrolled there. Then Bonine pointed out that the WCSD has an athletic budget of between $2.5 and $3 million.
“Now, let me ask you, which is a better bang for your buck,” Bonine asked sarcastically.
The NIAA chief will meet with the state’s school superintendents in April. He said by then he hopes school leaders will have a better idea of what kind of funding they’ll have for the next biennium.
He also said his organization is already studying ways to cut expenses and maybe even help districts out with travel costs. The NIAA spent more than $33,000 to use the Orleans Arena for the state basketball tournament. The facility is first-class, but it may not be feasible to use it in the future if too many districts can’t afford travel expenses to send and house teams in Las Vegas. Bonine said he’s studying options that include holding state tournaments at high school sites rather than larger, more expensive venues. That would save monies he could in turn kick back to districts to offset travel costs, but he admitted that has a down side.
“We could go to Spanish Springs High School and it would not cost us a penny,” Bonine said. “And that high school is a nice facility, but this,” he said alluding to the Orleans Arena. “This makes it an event. Holding state football at Damonte High School is nice. But it’s not an event … We’re trying to be proactive given the current state. We’re preparing for the worst case and we’re preparing for the status quo.”
Many proponents of high school sports fear if programs are cut, they won’t be back. Bonine stressed he’ll do everything he can to bring back positive programs if they are forced to be cut.
“If we have to cut events, programs, we’ll put an asterisk by it, call it on hiatus, suspended, on probation, whatever,” Bonine said. “Anything to tell people, we’re not keeping it like this.”
Clark County Director of Student Athletics Pam Sloan said her office cut $850,000 from its budget two years ago, but has not been given a directive yet to make plans for or study further cuts.
“The best case is we keep the status quo,” she said. “We could trim a little here or there and get creative. Our ultimate goal is not to lose programs.”
Sloan’s counterpart in Washoe County, Ken Cass, has been given a directive.
“I’ve been told to make a plan for a 10 percent cut and a 17 percent cut, but I can’t release those plans yet under direction from superintendent (Heath) Morrison. I think Dr. Morrison has made it clear in meetings and town halls that programs will be cut, whether it is a loss in opportunities or programs.
“I’d hate to see us lose this,” Cass said of the state tournament at the Orleans. “This is good for kids. This is good for families … I do believe Dr. Morrison is a huge proponent of athletics and activities and that he’ll do what he can to save them.”
Cass thinks it may be June or even July before local school officials know what kind of funding they’ll have for the school year and thus what kind of decisions on cuts need to be made.