Tentative approval of the 2007-08 budget for the Columbia County school system includes a bonus for the county's high school athletic departments.
Under the budget, which still needs final approval at a June 12 meeting, an extra $85,000 will go to high school athletic departments. The money will be used in several different areas of the high school sports programs including a 10 percent salary increases for all assistant coaches, the addition of two assistant coaching positions for varsity basketball, compensation for coaches during postseason play and an extra planning period for athletics directors.
A 42-page report submitted to the school board by local parents included several of these recommendations.
Randy Griffin, who led the effort, submitted the detailed study, which focused on making improvements to the county's football programs to make them more competitive.
"My name's on it, but it's probably 12 dads at the four high schools who did the work. It took a long time," Griffin said. "The whole intent of our document when we drew it up was to create a discussion."
That's what happened when the study was submitted to the school board in March. The attention prompted a similar review by the county's athletics directors and principals.
Associate Superintendent of Student Support Charles Nagle - slated to become the new superintendent when the next school year begins - presented the findings during last Tuesday's school board meeting. The recommendations went beyond the scope of the football improvements that Griffin's study suggested and instead included a review of all sports.
"It's kind of like when you go to the dinner table. You don't feed two of your children and leave two of them sitting there without a biscuit. You've got to make sure all of them are fed," Nagle said. "The recommendations that I submitted for the boards' approval came directly from the principals and athletic directors from the schools. All the principals and athletic directors met together, and then the principals came back and met with (assistant superintendent of student learning) Dr. (Sandra) Carraway and myself to try to iron out all of their wishes."
Those wishes included improvements in funding and policy. The addition of an assistant basketball coach for both the boys and girls basketball programs is a welcome relief for Evans athletics director and boys basketball coach Kevin Kenny.
"In (Griffin's) report it said basketball coaches were paid about 34 percent lower than coaches in areas comparable to Columbia County," Kenny said. "When we got together we decided that instead of giving us a raise we'd rather have an assistant. We knew we wouldn't get a raise and an assistant, so most of us agreed we'd rather have an assistant coach than a raise."
Current assistant coaches will receive a 10 percent supplemental increase, while head coaches will also have a chance to increase their pay. Any head coach who reaches the state playoffs will receive a bonus of $300 per week of postseason play. Assistant coaches will earn $150 extra per week.
"It's not as a reward, but it's a compensation for the additional time they spend," Nagle said.
While the school board tentatively approved the school budget with the additions, they didn't signal that the job of improving the county's sports had come to an end. Additional action was suggested.
"The board has asked us to look into three things," Nagle said. "To form a system-wide athletic committee ... To review ticket prices for all sports and see if a surcharge might be a possibility ... and to look into the idea of a tiered pay scale for head coaches and assistant coaches."
The extra homework indicated that the improvements have only just begun.
"We've taken one step down what I hope will be a long road," school board member Mike Sleeper said. "I think it's a great first step in the right direction, and I would like to see what a sports committee would be like to help us along."
Though several of the recommendations from the parent-led study did not make the final cut, Griffin said he was happy with the progress.
"I'm very pleased. I think it was a really good first step," he said. "It was tremendous cooperation between multiple schools, multiple athletic directors and parents from multiple schools. The system worked the way it was supposed to work. We've got a great school board, and they listened to us.
"Did they do exactly what we wanted? No, but they did the right thing in getting a big group discussion on it and deciding to make some changes."
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