There are discussion topics on everything from reclassification of schools and changes to the start of the fall sports season to the finalizing of tournament venues and formats. The majority of topics up for a vote are recommended for approval.
Then there is Item 17 — the only topic in which the recommended action is denial.
If that decision is handed down, it won’t leave high school athletic game officials pleased, but at the same time they know times are tough for everyone.
Like all State of Nevada workers, officials were due a 4 percent pay raise in their contracts, back when the economic crisis first hit. However, they were asked to wait until a better time. It was hard to expect a pay raise when teachers were losing their jobs and budgets were being cut.
It still looks like times are too tough to justify the raise.
Last year, the Washoe County School District alone spent $237,000 on officials for games. A 4 percent raise would mean an extra $11,000 in expenses. WCSD and other school districts around Nevada don’t seem ready to open the coffers just yet.
“It’s tough budgetary times. I think that’s why the recommendation is not to approve,“ Brian Rothe, the WCSD’s Coordinator of Student Activities & Athletics said. “I’m on the budget sub-committee for the NIAA. It was just a difficult time for the officials to ask for money when we’re cutting the salaries of teachers across the state. That’s the philosophy of that, not that they don’t deserve it or shouldn’t have it. It’s just a timing situation with the budget shortfalls in all the districts in our state. That (raise) wouldn’t just affect Washoe County. It would be every district in the state.
“It’s unfortunate. It’s just another one of those things you have to cut back on because of where we’re at. Mr. (Eddie) Bonine and the NIAA doesn’t want to tell them ‘no’ but unfortunately he doesn’t pay that bill. Every district pays the bill.”
Officials initially brought up the chance for a pay raise at the October meetings, but a decision was postponed until the upcoming meeting next week. In the meantime, superintendents throughout the state have discussed the situation and felt like they weren’t ready to issue a pay raise at this time.
Chris Healy, the NIAA liaison for officials, has been in contact with the various associations throughout the state and understands that money is still tight.
“From what I can tell, although we would like to see that raise come about sooner rather than later, we also have empathy and understanding for the situations the schools are in,” Healy said. “In clause 3.3A of our contract, it says that in times of crisis, we can delay a pay raise. I’m pretty confident that the officials association is going to follow that path and delay a pay raise until a more appropriate time. The next step for us is to work with the schools and the NIAA to figure out when the more appropriate time is.
“It certainly is not an adversarial relationship at this point. That‘s the thing I always try to stress. We‘re doing right by our members by bringing up the issue, but we‘re also understanding of where the schools are at. Everybody is in it for the kids and at the same time still provide a high level of service. I think we can get this accomplished as long as everybody keeps listening to each other.
The officials will continue going about their business, calling games to the best of their abilities. But with a new legislative session beginning, it will become more clear if finances around the state have improved and if school districts will be receiving more funds from the state.
Officials associations throughout the state have already made a conscious effort to keep costs for school districts as low as possible. Officials are paid the federal rate for mileage, which is 55.5 cents per mile. However, officials car pool together, so only one driver is paid the mileage if going out of town. Also, in Washoe County, officials who live in the Reno-Sparks area aren’t paid mileage as long as they don’t travel more than 10 miles from the “Spaghetti Bowl,” the designated geographic center of the valley. Where costs start growing is when officials from in town have to travel to rural areas like Fallon or Winnemucca to officiate games, and then those county‘s school districts pick up those costs.
Another way to reduce costs would be to decrease the number of paid officials at games, such as getting rid of the third referee at Div. I basketball games. However, that isn’t a popular choice among schools or officials.
“The schools themselves and from what I can tell, the NIAA Board, do not want to reduce that level of service,” Healy said. “The way the game is played, it’s a better game with three officials, and it’s a safer game. That was discussed, but I don’t think the schools want to go in that direction. The officials don’t want to go in that direction because we think the game is better officiated with those officials.”
There has been much discussion over the years on a shortage of officials in the area in some sports. Healy doesn’t want people to think it’s all about money. The problem has been more about game times, and that’s why many soccer games this year were changed.
“Start times for games can be a real problem,” he said. “I’ve been umpiring baseball for almost 40 years around here. I’ve been around long enough that if I have a game, I’ll go to work at 6:30 instead of 7:30, so I can get off early. A lot of guys don’t have that leeway. It’s an issue that we’re going to bring up to the schools and discuss maybe the possibility of some later start times or some doubleheaders to try to get more officials involved.
“For instance, one of the guys who is a real good baseball umpire, he’s got a new job and it’s hard for him to get off during the week. So a guy I’d like to have umpiring three times a week, is suddenly only able to umpire on a Saturday, so that creates a problem. For the most part, it’s just the availability of guys who have flexibility in their schedules. There is less flexibility in schedules the past few years because of the economic crunch that we’re in.”