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APS Athletic Programs Scramble To Find Ways to Withstand Deep Budget Cuts

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It was only a matter of time before the budget woes at Albuquerque Public Schools began to seep heavily into athletics.

That time has arrived.

There are significant changes afoot in 2010-11, as athletics, like everyone, feels the squeeze of a sagging economy. The APS athletic department budget had to cut about $200,000 from its operational account this school year, from $3 million to $2.8 million.

Among those cuts:

• For the first time, APS will not pay for schools to bus football teams to local venues.

• Every varsity sport – with the exception of football – will see a reduction in regular-season games.

• Supply allocation budgets have been reduced by 10 percent.

In addition, coaches across the board have seen their differentials – the pay they get strictly for coaching – reduced by 15 percent. This money comes from the operating budget, however, and not the athletic department budget.

"It's already a hard coaching gig to coach in APS as it is," Manzano boys basketball coach Travis Julian said. "This just makes it even tougher."

According to APS athletic director Kenny Barreras, game reductions are saving APS about $30,000 for 2010-11. Slashing the allocation budgets – which are used specifically for equipment – is saving approximately $60,000, and eliminating busing shaved another $40,000. Those three areas comprise the bulk of the $200,000.

Reducing stipends/differentials will save about another $400,000, according to an APS spokeswoman.

Game Reductions

Most of the major team sports – basketball, soccer, baseball, softball, volleyball – are losing two regular-season contests. Baseball, basketball and softball are going from 26 to 24; volleyball and soccer from 20 to 18.

"Two games isn't necessarily that big of a deal," La Cueva boys soccer coach Kevin Driggs said. "With the economy being the way it is, we understand."

The other sports, including golf, tennis, track, swimming/diving, cross country and wrestling, are losing the equivalent of one event.

Sub-varsity teams are also trimming schedules. In basketball, baseball and softball, for example, it's a 20-game schedule for 2010-11. That is three fewer games than were played in 2009-10.

"If that's what we need to do to get through this crisis, then everyone is going to have to take a back seat to what our financial problems are," Volcano Vista baseball coach Kevin Andersh said.

As far back as January, APS has been preparing for this contingency, building schedules with possible game reductions in mind, Barreras said.

"We didn't build them completely to maximum levels," Barreras said, adding that games are not being pulled off current schedules.

APS will honor its road trips for 2010-11, although there's no guarantee APS programs will be traveling as much in 2011-12, especially with more budget-cutting measures expected in the months to come.

"Looking forward, we've begun to identify what the next steps are," Barreras said. "If we have to continue to reduce some things, that's on the table, certainly."

Barreras said APS also had to absorb the new funding of adding cheer/drill as an athletic program. The total estimated budget impact is about $400,000, Barreras said.

Point A to Point B

The busing issue is creating a headache, if not turmoil. Barreras said the driving force behind the change had less to do with the budget than Title IX.

"Where questions had arisen," Barreras said, "is why the school district was busing football, with mostly male athletes, and not busing females. It wasn't really a function of a budget reduction."

Barreras said it cost about $40,000 for a single football season to bus teams.

"APS just basically doesn't fund in-town transportation at the high school level anymore," Barreras said, adding that football was the last remaining sport in which APS was completely funding the busing costs.

Schools will feel the pinch, and many of them are trying to raise the money themselves, through booster clubs, to absorb the price of busing three teams (varsity, JV, freshmen) to in-town contests. A random sampling by the Journal indicates it will cost about $3,000-$3,800 for a school to pay for busing for a single season.

"It's just part of doing business in the economic situation we're all in," Sandia football coach Kevin Barker said.

APS will continue to fund football trips outside city limits, including short trips like Rio Rancho.

To defray the costs involved in chartering a bus – the cost is a flat rate of about $140-$150 per trip, regardless of distance – some schools are asking students and families to pitch in. At Sandia, for example, each player is being asked to pay, or raise, an additional $30. At Eldorado, booster club fees are up to $50.

Coaches insist that busing is vital for several reasons, including safety and convenience. Coaches also don't want players mingling with rival teams after games.

"It's just not a good situation," said Eldorado coach Charlie Dotson. "We want to get them on the bus and go home."

Rio Grande football coach Randy Gutierrez doesn't have the luxury of a booster club. The club no longer exists, he said, disbanded by the new administration.

He estimated that the program would somehow need to raise about $3,700 to bus three teams for the 2010 season. Without a booster club, the burden may fall to coaches and parents to transport athletes. The coach said he was unsure what would happen.

"I would love to raise the money," Gutierrez said, "but I'm not allowed to ask the kids for any money. Until something happens, I'm stuck."

A major concern is transporting athletes on the freshmen and JV teams, many of whom may not yet be old enough to drive or don't yet have a car. Moreover, many games at those levels are conducted during weekdays in the late afternoon, and that could put some parents in a bind if they are being asked to leave work early, drive to school and then ferry their child, and possibly other teammates, to a football venue.

Even this option is fraught with hiccups. While coaches could transport multiple players in a personal vehicle, a volunteer parent would be subject to an APS background check, including fingerprinting, APS spokeswoman Johanna King said. Such a background check costs $33.

"If a parent does something (inappropriate) with a kid, parent B will turn around and sue APS," Gutierrez said. "That's a big concern."

Slashing Differentials

Chopping 15 percent off coaching differentials is a temporary, one-year solution, said Bob Woody, APS' director of labor relations. But coaches are not the only APS employees taking a hit. Organization sponsors and department chairs are other examples of positions that are facing a reduced differential, which APS defines as compensation for extra duty.

Overall, a couple of thousand employees are affected, Woody said.

"I think it was a bit of a shock to all of us," Cibola girls basketball coach Lori Stephenson said of the reduction. "But quite honestly, you don't coach for the money anyway."

The base football stipend for 2009 – for head coaches with six or fewer seasons – was $5,452. That number goes down to $4,635 for 2010.

Football coaches are at the upper end of the stipend scale. A head golf coach, by contrast, made $2,287 in 2009-10. The stipend for head basketball coaches last season was $4,486.

Coaches in every sport receive bumps in their stipends going into their seventh season (an extra $600) and their 11th season (another $1,000).

"What I'm concerned with,&
quot; Cibola football coach Judge Chavez said, "is that when they start taking things away, we never get them back."

Chavez's stipend was around $6,500 last year, but he's one of the longest-tenured football coaches in the city.

About $1,000 less will end up in his pocket as a result.

"For me, I'm married to a lawyer," Manzano's Julian said with a laugh. "That's the only reason I can really do this. If you look outside APS, (other districts) take care of their coaches much better than APS does."