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Some athletics included in school district budget cuts

By David Scharfenberg Daily Planet staff
Tuesday April 02, 2002

Community members and Berkeley High School administrators are questioning athletic cuts already approved by the Board of Education, and debating further cuts suggested by district administration. 

One proposal in particular – demoting boys’ and girls’ crew to club status – is generating strong controversy. 

The school board, which faces a roughly $5.4 million deficit next year, approved an initial wave of $3.8 million in cuts Feb. 27. Those cuts included the elimination of one team for any sport fielding three – freshman, junior varsity and varsity.  

The move, expected to save the district $34,500, would affect seven sports, according to BHS Athletic Director Robert Traum – football, baseball, boys’ and girls’ soccer, boys’ and girls’ basketball and girls’ volleyball. 

Traum said the move makes sense, in tight times, since physical education classes incorporate all the skills involved in those sports. 

But some coaches and athletes are upset by the cuts. 

“This will have a dramatic effect,” said Vincent Trahan, head coach for the BHS boys’ junior varsity basketball team, arguing that freshman and junior varsity squads serve as important training grounds for varsity teams. 

“If they’re not playing basketball and football, kids will be out getting into gangs and fights,” added Ottis Gaskin, a BHS senior and lacrosse player.  

BHS Co-principal Laura Leventer said high school administrators have similar concerns. As a result, the school’s “shared governance team,” which includes teachers and administrators, voted last week to recommend a shift in board policy. 

The team will ask the board to withdraw the cuts in freshman and junior varsity athletics, and charge each of Berkeley High’s 1,000 student-athletes a $75 transportation fee to generate revenue.  


Low-income students would be eligible for fee reductions through the Berkeley Athletic Fund, a private fundraising group.  

School board members reached by the Planet cautioned that they would need to see a financial analysis before making a decision, but said the idea was an interesting one. 

“I’m open to that,” said board member Terry Doran. 

The athletic department developed the transportation fee proposal and the controversial crew recommendation earlier this year, according to Traum, and both appeared as items for “further analysis” in a budget document issued by Superintendent Michele Lawrence in February. The board has not yet formally considered, or voted upon either proposal.  

BHS crew, the only public school squad in California, is not quite a “full sport.” Like rugby or frisbee, crew is not recognized by the California Interscholastic Federation, a statewide body that governs high school sports. As a result, the program does not have to abide by the CIF rules that apply for full sports like basketball or volleyball. Crew athletes, for instance, can train year-round while basketball players cannot. 

But, like a full sport, the crew program receives district funding for coaches and transportation, and physical education credit for its athletes. 

If the board officially made crew a club sport, the district would cut off about $12,000 in funding, leaving rowers and parents, who already raise significant sums to supplement coaches’ salaries and pay for equipment, to shoulder the full cost of the program. 

The move would also strip rowers of credit for physical education classes. 

Traum said the shift is only fair. Other sports that he equates with crew – club sports like frisbee, mountain biking and rugby – do not receive funding and physical education credit. 

“It’s hard to have a double-standard,” Traum said. “How do you tell mountain biking, how do you tell rugby, that they can’t get p.e. credit?” 

Traum attributes crew’s status to a “powerful parent lobby,” intent on maintaining physical education credit, and freeing up space in their children’s school schedules for other classes. He predicts that the board would have a difficult time bucking that lobby. 

But David Biale, parent of a student on the girls crew team, said there are valid reasons for crew’s status. 

“Our daughters have seven workouts a week during the Spring season – five in the very early morning, two in the afternoon,” Biale said, adding that rowers condition in the fall as well. “There’s an enormous time commitment these girls are making...It’s certainly appropriate for them to get p.e. credit.” 

School board members Ted Schultz and Doran said it only seemed fair that rowers, like other athletes, should get physical education credit. Doran said that, even if the district withdraws funding, it should make an exception for crew and continue to provide p.e. credit. 

Molly Brannigan, coach of the girls’ crew team, said demoting the squad to club status would be a blow to the rowers’ pride. 

“Berkeley High School is the only public high school in California with a crew team,” she said, noting that the rowers square off against club teams in the area that pluck the cream of the crop from dozens of high schools. “We’re proud that we’re a school team.”