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East Side Dreams Deferred

Budget Cuts Eliminate Sports from San Jose High Schools

De Bug, Commentary, G. Melesaine Posted: Dec 23, 2008

Editor's Note: The San Jose East Side Union High School District last week proposed cutting sports programs for the next school year, in an attempt to shore up an $11 million budget shortfall. For some, school sports is the only way to keep their grades up, writes NAM contributor G. Melesaine. Melesaine attended James Lick High School, where she played for the Comets basketball team. Melesaine is a contributor to Silicon Valley De-Bug.

SAN JOSE -- The San Jose East Side Union High School District last week proposed cutting sports programs in the 2009 to 2010 school year. There was no debate. The cuts had to be announced before Dec. 15, 2008, the deadline for the district to turn in their balanced budget for the next two years, under state law. (The proposed cuts will be reviewed and approved in June 2009).The district is already $11 million in debt, so cuts had to be made. Athletics was the first to go.

I attended the aftermath meeting on Dec. 15, attended by athletic directors as well as angry parents and students trying to find solutions. ESUHSD Chief of Operations Alan Garofalo gave the crowd a concise estimate of the costs for athletics, including the cost of coaches, transportation, equipment, and the cost of maintaining the gym, field, and pool. The expenses totaled about $4 million. At the meeting, I asked parents how much notice they got when the decision was made.

"The first I heard about the cutting of athletics was the day they announced the cut," said one mother.

Meeting participants then split into groups to brainstorm ways to raise money. The group decided funds would be collected and placed in an account specifically for funding athletics. The district said it has contacted major local sports teams to see what they can do to help.

Some of the other options that were suggested in the group were donations from alumni, volunteer coaches and even the "pay to play" option. To me, it seemed that the solutions were too minor, and unless Bill Gates or Oprah wake up one morning feeling so generous as to give a couple million dollars away to a district that already fails students, the district is in trouble.

I saw one of my old basketball coaches at the meeting and joined his solution group. That took me back to my balling days (there was a huge scandal that unfolded at that time about the former superintendent embezzling a couple million dollars). I hated playing basketball in an institution, but the only reason I joined was to stay in school. As soon as the season was over, some could have considered me a dropout. Basketball was the only discipline that was keeping me at school.

Athletics for many students is a way to practice self-discipline, not only physically but also mentally. It is, for some, the only way to keep their grades up. The school district will probably see an even bigger inevitable decline in next year's test scores.

High school is the defining point of one's life, a quasi-transition from a child's adolescence to adulthood responsibilities. High school is where your plans begin for your future. For some students, athletics is the only path to attending the best universities, and attending them for free through scholarships.

If there is not enough money to fund athletics next year for the East Side Union High School District, the schools could be a testing ground to see how much athletics has helped students academically. It will be evident in test scores.

My friends and I used to use the slang term "hoop dreams," which came from a documentary about high school kids trying to get out of the hood through their basketball playing abilities. Almost everyone I knew had hoop dreams, track dreams, football dreams. It wasn't because they wanted to be the popular star of the campus: most of the time, it was just to be the first one in their families to go to a four-year college and become something. So many of them come from communities where most fail because the education system fails them.

Those dreams may just have gotten cut before they even started.

Related Articles:

Declaring Their Right to Learn

Californians Would Pay for Real Education Reform

How Will Community College Access Be Impacted by the Budget Cuts?

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