Funding could end in spring for high school sports in Portland

As part of the ongoing work of dealing with its $50 million budget shortfall, the Portland school district is exploring the idea of cutting all funding for athletics as early as the spring sports season.

Portland Public Schools Superintendent Jim Scherzinger's office is in the latest round of finding $12.8 million in cuts and is considering shortening the school year by 15 days.

It's also looking at such budget-saving moves as cutting everything from athletics to Outdoor School, a four-day environmental camp for middle school students.

The budget cuts would be made regardless of the outcome of Measure 28, the temporary income tax increase that will be up for a statewide vote in January.

'It's possible that we could cut funding for spring sports,' said Bill Farver, Scherzinger's executive assistant. 'It's also possible we could cut funding for athletics for next (fiscal) year, too.'

Cutting funds for Portland Interscholastic League athletics wouldn't necessarily mean that the spring sports season would be shelved. But massive fund raising would be needed to save the season.

About 40 percent of the district's 13,000 high school students participate in at least one sport during the year. Turnout for spring sports last year was 2,100 students, according to Greg Ross, district athletic director.

School board member Julia Brim-Edwards said if the district cut funding for athletics, it would be a last resort.

'With the money we're getting from the state, we've been put in a position where everything is on the table,' said Brim-Edwards, who was briefed Monday on some of the budget options.

'We've already made a heroic effort to keep the cuts as far away from students and programs as possible,' she said. 'But you can only go so far before you get to things like athletics.'

Portland's budget went from $367 million last year to $352 million this year and may drop to $343 million if Measure 28 fails, according to district figures. If the district had maintained last year's exact services, the cost would have been roughly $403 million this year.

The options for the current round of budget cuts will be discussed at the Dec. 9 board meeting.

One option that Scherzinger had available, Farver said, was to simply cut 18 days Ñ instead of 15 Ñ off the calendar, but the three days were saved partially in response to the district's ongoing negotiations with the Portland Association of Teachers.

Portland planned to spend $2.1 million on athletics from its general fund this school year.

The visibility of athletics makes it one of the more appealing programs to cut because of the likelihood that it could be saved through fund-raising efforts.

The PIL already is raising money to save boys and girls golf, which lost its funding last spring. And virtually every athletic team does some form of fund raising to pay for new uniforms, better training equipment, travel expenses or additional coaches.

'If we can shift the expense of a program so that it's not in the budget, but we still have that program, we're going to look closely at that,' Brim-Edwards said.

Ross, the athletic director, said the challenges of fund raising for the entire district are many and would quickly stumble into equity issues.

'If you have a football team that raises money for its season, but the volleyball team at that school doesn't, is there a Title IX issue?' he pondered. 'And what about the schools that can raise money for their sports, while others cannot? What do you do then?'

Another obstacle to districtwide fund raising might be the centralization of funds that the district probably would require. Individual teams control the money they currently raise, but that wouldn't be the case with money earmarked for what would likely be a 'Save PIL Sports' drive. That money would be sent to the district, which then would send money back to individual teams for coaching salaries, referees and other expenses.

District administrator Farver said the district's best option would be for a wealthy donor to fund a major portion of the athletic budget.

'If there's someone in the community who wants to champion athletics, it would be great if they would step forward,' he said. 'And it would be great if they had the resources to do it every year, because we could potentially have this situation every year.'

Contact Cliff Pfenning at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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