The first step toward forming an Orange County high school athletic section in the California Interscholastic Federation is scheduled Aug. 20, when the county's superintendents will meet at the Anaheim Union High School District offices.
Superintendents will be asked to vote on a proposal that would allow the county's 72 high schools, with more than 100,000 students, to break away from the 485-member Southern Section that stretches from San Clemente to San Luis Obispo, and from Calexico to Mammoth.
Many of the county's superintendents feel the current voting system of the general council that rules the Southern Section is inequitable. Currently, private schools pay 11% of the Southern Section's dues but control 37% of the votes.
Those who support a new section, which would include all public, Catholic and private schools in Orange County, also point with alarm to the increasing transportation costs and travel time for Southern Section playoff events.
The key issues that could sidetrack approval are expected to be financing and equity of competition among the county's 15 private schools, most notably the smaller schools with enrollments of fewer than 100.
County superintendents and private school administrators received in June an 87-page feasibility study prepared by consultant Barbara Wilson, a former deputy superintendent in the Tustin Unified School District, and were asked to complete a questionnaire.
They were asked if they were in favor of proceeding with the formation of an Orange County Section of the CIF, and if approved, what timetable they preferred.
If approved by county superintendents, the proposal first would have to be approved by the Southern Section's Executive Committee, then its general council and then the State Federated Council of the CIF. The proposal is on the agenda for discussion at the Southern Section's Executive Committee meeting, scheduled for Aug. 22.
"My understanding is all the public schools are saying go," said Peter Hartman, superintendent of the Saddleback Valley Unified School District. "If I had to bet, I would bet that it's going to happen. The time is awfully close to right.
"The overriding thing, if anything is going to sell this, it's going to be the transportation difficulty. It's kind of inevitable that there's going to be some 'decentralization' of the Southern Section. I think it's too big. I think it's bigger than it needs to be."
Stan Thomas, commissioner of the Southern Section, has reservations about the proposal, but added, "If it can be done anywhere, Orange County can make it happen. The area has great facilities and outstanding leadership among its educators and administrators."
The Southern Section is basically financed by membership dues, sports fees and football and basketball playoff revenues. The section operates under a $1 million budget with half the income coming from playoff revenue. Member schools also pay 23 cents per student and a $15 fee for each sports program in its athletic department.
A move to withdraw from the Southern Section would be the first since San Diego County schools incorporated in 1960. The San Diego Section has 75 member schools and Wilson based many of the figures in the feasibility study on San Diego's budget.
Wilson's feasibility study estimates that 72 county schools could operate under a $600,000 budget with $390,000 of the income generated from playoff revenue.
Under Wilson's plan, dues would be raised from the current 23 cents a school pays the Southern Section for each student to 35 cents they would pay the Orange County Section. Members of the San Diego Section pay 65 cents per student toward an operating budget of $622,000.
County schools also would receive less playoff revenue. The Southern Section splits 50% of the gate with participating playoff schools, but Wilson's plan calls for the county section to receive 80% and the participating schools 10% each.
The need for corporate support to finance a county section is also obvious. The county section would receive $54,000 from the State CIF's partnership with Reebok and Pepsi Cola, but the feasibility plan is also banking on another $50,000 to be generated within the section.
"There probably is some corporate support in Orange County," said Tom Jacobson, Corona del Mar principal and president of the Southern Section's general council. "I expect the great question is, 'Would they respond right now?' These are recessionary times and the timing may not be right."
Jacobson chaired a committee in 1980 that sought a county section. Jacobson said the proposal gained support of only 40% of the county's administrators.
"The greatest concern 10 years ago was the financial atmosphere of our schools," he said. "We weren't secure financially then, and in many instances, we aren't now. But this is a serious effort with the superintendents involved. Orange County could function as a section. If the majority wants it, they ought to pursue it."