The Los Angeles City Section high school sports program is facing $1.4 million in budget cuts for the next school year, Barbara Fiege, commissioner of athletics for the section, said Monday.
The reduction in funding for athletics, which represents a 20% cut, is part of a wide-scale contraction required by the Los Angeles Unified School District because of losses in state funding.
"The reality is, because of the economy and the budget restraints of the district, we can't avoid it," Fiege said. "But can we be smart about it? Yes. Can we be efficient? Yes."
Fiege has already met with league commissioners about what would be the largest loss of funds since she took over leadership of City Section athletics in 1993. The issue will also be discussed at a meeting of school athletic directors on Thursday.
"What I hope and do believe is possible is that we can make the cuts needed or raise funds needed so that the opportunity for kids who are playing right now won't be taken away to any large degree," Fiege said.
The City Section had already been hit by a loss of $600,000 in transportation funds the last two years, and this spring reduced the number of baseball and softball games to make ends meet.
School districts around the state, facing similar financial challenges, are expected to scale back sports programs -- but how they'll do it is largely undetermined.
Thom Simmons, spokesman for the Southern Section, the largest of the California Interscholastic Federation's 10 sections, predicted sports programs below the varsity level would be hit the hardest.
"The reality is less programs, less budget for travel, less for tournaments, less altogether," Simmons said.
In southern Ventura County, the Conejo Valley Unified School District has preliminary plans that call for each of its schools to cut 10 coaching stipends, Newbury Park assistant principal Richard Urias said.
In the City Section, coaching stipends fall under the LAUSD's contract with the United Teachers Los Angeles union, and they can be reduced only through a negotiated agreement. Schools are able to drop individual sports teams, however, thereby eliminating the need for coaches while also saving on transportation costs.
Fiege said cutting teams would be a last resort because it conflicts with the district's focus on keeping students in school. That sentiment was echoed by Rick Prizant, athletic director at Lake Balboa Birmingham High, who said his school had "no plans of cutting anything, because we believe athletics increases interest in school."
Manny Alvarado, longtime baseball coach at Granada Hills Kennedy High, said it may be time for the LAUSD to allow sports teams to charge a transportation fee to athletes, as other districts have done. However, Gregg Solkovits, the UTLA's secondary vice president, said the union has opposed fees because the district has a large number of families who couldn't afford to pay.
Solkovits suggested the LAUSD might approach local professional sports teams and ask for a temporary surcharge on tickets in support of the district's athletic program.
Angelo Gasca, Venice High's football coach, considers some kind of sacrifice inevitable.
"Education is being pushed to the back of the line," he said. "I'm committed to helping kids in my school and my community. If they cut my stipend in half, I'm not going anywhere. It's important we stay in the fight."