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L.A. COMMUNITY COLLEGE DILEMMA : A Budget Plan That Just Might Kill Athletics

May 21, 1986|DAVID MORGAN and RICH TOSCHES | Times Staff Writers

Ray May spent 10 years as a linebacker in the National Football League, living in a world of high-intensity levels. But when he had left Los Angeles High in 1963, he was only a socket wrench away from a life concerned only with octane levels.

He wanted to be an auto mechanic, and enrolled at a trade school. But just a month or so later, a few former football and baseball teammates at L.A. High enrolled at L.A. City College. They began singing the praises of the school's sports program. May heard the music.

It led, in a route that may soon be closing, to a USC scholarship and an eight-year career in professional football.

"They were very persuasive, and so I enrolled at City College, too, because I wanted to keep playing football," said May, 40. "As soon as I got there and got the feel of the place, found out about books and learning, the fire started. It burned inside me. I was turned on. I loved it."

If the Los Angeles Community College District's Board of Trustees has its way, few athletes will find their way to colleges and the pros through L.A. City, or any other school in the district after this semester. In February, the board decided largely to eliminate its intercollegiate athletics program. Six weeks from now, the massive layoffs and spending cuts are scheduled to take effect.

Critics of the plan say that dozens of Ray Mays will be stuck at the station.

The layoffs and spending cuts would only affect the district's nine colleges--East Los Angeles, L.A. City, Southwest, Trade Tech, West Los Angeles, Harbor, Pierce, Valley and Mission.

Coincidentally, the plan follows the introduction earlier this year of much stiffer NCAA guidelines for freshman admission requirements at Division I schools. Students across the country who are being denied the chance to play sports on that level will be turning to Division II and III schools, and community colleges, to raise their grade-point averages. The proposal in the L.A. district could effectively kill the hopes of many of these borderline students.

Dr. Monroe Richman, district board president, said the plan to cut staff and athletic spending is the result of "an overdue change in educational direction" and was not mandated by a lack of money. To combat an enrollment decline of about 50,000 students since 1981, he said, the district must use its money in areas likely to attract more students.

District budget director Lawrence Serot said that money saved from layoffs of coaches, physical education teachers and instructors in 29 other disciplines, from nursing to auto mechanics, will be used to attract more students to growing academic areas, such as English as a second language, computer sciences, business and mathematics.

"We are going to start putting our money in higher-demand areas for students, but we can't guarantee what will occur as a result," Serot said.

The result of athletics in the past has been profit. A financial study conducted in 1985 by the district staff shows that athletics earned a $1.5-million profit for the district in the 1984-85 school year. According to the study, most of that surplus was generated by the estimated 2,000 students who attended the district's schools mainly because of athletics.

The financing of athletic programs in the district is based on enrollment in physical education courses. Serot said that the effects of layoffs on athletic programs was unintentional.

"Athletics got caught up in the physical education issue," Serot said. "It wasn't an intended target. PE classes were."

According to the district study, gate receipts of the sporting events held at the district's nine colleges were insignificant. But a related study by the district's faculty union conducted in 1985 indicated that each athlete attracts an average of three to four students--usually friends--through their enrollment at a particular school.

District administrators question both studies.

"The reports assume that if those athletes weren't in the classroom, their spot wouldn't be taken by another student," Pierce President David Wolf said.

Pointing to sagging enrollment, Larry Rosenzweig, an attorney representing the faculty union, disputed Wolf's argument.

"I wasn't aware that the classrooms in this district were overcrowded," Rosenzweig said.

Critics of the layoffs, such as faculty representatives and part-time coaches, also point to a 1985 district study indicating that while only 4% of the general community college student body goes on to four-year colleges or universities, 40% of community college athletes move on to four-year schools.

Despite the study showing sports as a moneymaker and the figures on transfers to four-year colleges, the district's Board of Trustees voted, 6-1, on May 7 to issue final layoff notices to 13 physical education instructors. Layoff notices also went out to 35 full-time instructors in 29 other departments. The layoffs, determined by seniority, take effect June 30 unless district administrators and teachers can negotiate an agreement.

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