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Equity Act Tries To Ensure Prep Title IX Compliance

Seeking Equity

Act tries to ensure high school Title IX compliance

Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of stories marking the 40th anniversary of Title IX. Wednesday the series ends with a look at how high school booster clubs are being affected.

So far, so good.

At least, that seems to be the consensus on New Mexico’s School Athletics Equity Act.

Of course, “so far” is a relative term. To date, it hasn’t demanded much.

“The good thing about it is it is bringing to light the responsibility of the schools of New Mexico,” said Pamelya P. Herndon, executive director of the Southwest Women’s Law Center in Albuquerque, which was largely responsible for crafting the SAEA.

Equity Act Causes Head-Scratching (June 27)

Equity Act Tries To Ensure Prep Title IX
 (June 26)

Title IX a Factor in Cutting UNM Men’s Sports? (June 25)

Estes Is Still a Strong Advocate for Title IX, Women’s Sports (June 24)

Title IX Wasn’t a Cure-All (June 24)

The SAEA was enacted to ensure that the state complies with the federal Title IX act, which this month marks its 40th anniversary.

While Title IX has never compelled schools to reveal whether or not they are in compliance with the law, the state act, in essence, picks up the ball and runs with it from there.

“Title IX has served its purpose, and it’s definitely making things equal for both genders,” said Valley High girls basketball coach Rich Harbin. “It has helped evolve sports on the girls, or women’s, side of things.”

The first part of the SAEA — signed into law by then-Gov. Bill Richardson in April of 2009 — began its phase-in process a year ago and is being monitored by the Public Education Department.

The PED required high schools and middle schools to provide information on enrollment figures and athletic participation figures, each broken down by gender, and to submit data on coaching salaries/stipends.

By law, there must be equal pay for similar jobs. Boys and girls basketball coaches must receive the same stipend, boys and girls soccer, baseball/softball, etc.

Not that everyone has found total equality. Football coaches, for instance, generally receive the largest stipend everywhere you go.

“If it’s a coach, it should be equal for all of us, because we’re all doing the same exact job,” La Cueva girls soccer coach Amber Ashcraft argued.

The state’s high schools and middle schools met their first deadline last Aug. 31. That first batch of data, contained within a nearly 400-page document, was considered a rather basic reporting process.

Herndon said the Southwest Women’s Law Center has examined the data, and has compiled a report, but declined to comment about the report’s contents until the group has had a chance to talk to individual schools about “inequities that need to be adjusted.”

Herndon did say that a major change New Mexico instituted two years ago disturbs her. It regards the treatment of cheerleading as a sport. That is important insomuch as it created more of a balance in participation numbers between boys and girls.

“I’m not in favor of treating cheerleading as a sport for Title IX purposes,” she said. “When girls go to college, they will not get a scholarship for being a cheerleader.”

On deck

By this Aug. 31, high schools (but not middle schools) will have to supply the PED with a detailed accounting map of every dime earmarked for athletics. As per the SAEA language, schools must “collect and report data on all funds received and spent by program and by gender.”

The PED’s role is to collect the reports. The Southwest Women’s Law Center will do the analysis, almost certainly with intense scrutiny as this will be the most detailed financial reporting yet about how money is divided between the genders.

“We’ll find out after we look at all the data from both reporting periods,” Herndon said.

She said the law center is not looking to become immediately litigious, but rather give schools that are not in compliance a chance to rectify their situations.

“We were not trying to create a mechanism to bring a lawsuit,” Herndon said of the SAEA. “We just want them to come into compliance. This is a transparent method to help them.”

Gender equity does not necessarily translate into a black-and-white, dollar-for-dollar match, an aspect of SAEA that often is misconstrued.

The information public high schools must submit by Aug. 31 includes private donations and booster club spending among the funding numbers for each program. It also includes travel expenses and facility expenses.

The reports are to also include data on game schedules, practice times, game schedules, and rotation of equipment — like uniforms.

Individual booster clubs must submit their financial information to a school before the schools submit it to the PED.

Herndon said she expects once the data is uploaded onto the PED website, it will take a couple of months to analyze it.

While Title IX is a federal law and applies to all activities, the state reporting law applies specifically to athletics.

Dorene A. Kuffer, writing as the legal director of the Southwest Women’s Law Center, opined in a Journal op-ed piece last August that girls who get early “opportunities to participate in competitive athletics” are more likely to stay active and be healthier.

Primarily, Kuffer argues, schools should allocate their money across all sports.

“The reports that are published (in 2011 and this year) will provide a baseline for New Mexico schools,” Kuffer wrote. “They will show the gaps in opportunities and provide a road map for schools to make improvements.”

Changing times

There are specific examples of individual schools that have faced Title IX issues with regards to gender equity.

In Eunice, the Cardinals’ baseball field was on campus, but the school’s softball team played at a city-run field. Eunice constructed a softball field two years ago on campus.

“It had been in our master plan for a while, but it was one of those things that got bumped up a little quicker (with the SAEA),” said Eunice athletic director Gary Frazier. “We built the softball (field) to try and make it equitable for the girls.”

In Rio Rancho, while the high school baseball team has one of the top facilities in the state — including indoor and outdoor batting cages, plus office space, full concessions and locker rooms — the softball program, until a few years ago, lacked many of those same amenities.

Rio Rancho softball plays home games at nearby Eagle Ridge Middle School. The four-field complex is several hundred yards down the road from Rio Rancho’s baseball stadium.

Before Rio Rancho could get a second baseball field, the district had to get Eagle Ridge some renovations. Added were locker rooms, weight rooms, bathrooms, shower facilities and coaches’ offices. The work took place in June of 2008, at a cost of about $180,000, according to the district. Two years later, Rio Rancho started work on its second baseball field.

At Cibola several years ago, the state Legislature had capital requests from both baseball and softball for facility upgrades. Baseball’s was ultimately approved, but with Title IX considerations, it had to be reconfigured to include softball. After building a concessions stand that served both fields, the remaining money was split between the sports.

New Mexico Activities Association associate director Sally Marquez said there is an important distinction to be made in terms of how schools spend money.

The key, she said, is not to examine how much one school is spending compared to another, but rather how much it spends “within the school itself.”

For example, La Cueva may be spending far more on football than West Mesa. But individual schools need only concern themselves that they have parceled out funds, equipment, etc., in an equitable way among the programs on their own campus, Marquez explained.

The woman who introduced the SAEA to the state legislature in 2009, state Rep. Danice Picraux, is also a member of the Southwest Women’s Law Center. She said she has been encouraged so far by what the act has accomplished.

“If there are complaints, either I haven’t heard them or they’ve been taken care of,” said Picraux. “I’m going to assume that everyone is doing what they can in good faith (to comply with the SAEA). I do think we’ve been making progress. But I don’t think we’re hunky dory everywhere.

“If the spirit of equality is there,” Picraux said of schools, “they will make it happen. This has got to work itself out and we have to make sure it does. But it has got growing pains in terms of putting it together.”
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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