In the Northern California towns of Fairfield and Suisun, high school athletes are enjoying what may be the last games they play on campus.
On a typical fall Friday night, the bleachers in Armijo’s football field are filled to the brim with fans of the Indians or one of their crosstown rivals, the Fairfield Falcons or Rodriguez Mustangs.
Last fall may have been host to the final games ever played on those fields. Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District, located about an hour north of San Francisco, voted to cut funding for all high school sports from the budget to help close a $6.5 million deficit. High school band, junior ROTC, theater, yearbook and arts programs will also be cut.
Some parents of the 6,000+ students that attend those high schools were outraged when the announcement was made on Wednesday. They felt that their voices were not heard.
You guys put banners out there when you want our vote, put banners out there when you need our help,” said Armas, whose daughter plays sports at Armijo High School. “Tell us how we can help you help our children.
But the school board insists that these budget cuts were already broadcast in February, when the board voted to cut all coaching and advisor stipends to teachers, which amounted to almost $240,000. Per the guidelines, only teachers and staff can serve in those positions. Volunteer coaches are not allowed due to California labor laws.
The Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District already closed a middle school and consolidated other elementary schools. An earlier proposal to eliminate kindergarten was shot down. They faced a similar situation for last year’s budget but the teacher’s unions made enough concessions to keep the sports and extracurricular activities intact.
There will likely be a trickle-down effect on the surrounding community. There are more than 6,000 students among the three high schools and nearly 30 high school sports. Eliminating the sports alone can affect the local businesses that offer support- trophy makers, equipment suppliers, post-game restaurateurs and concessionaires among them. Other school districts will have to consider re-structuring out of conference games and tournaments, which will also likely reduce their revenues.
Some locals fear that neighborhoods will be affected in another way. Natalie, a mother of four, wonders about the effects on crime now that the high school students will have no other place to go after school. Her husband works at a major prison nearby and they both know all too well the ill affects of what happens when kids roam the streets.
Adam Francis is the parent of an athlete that will be impacted. He already sees how physical education is losing its place in school.
I think its a huge loss for the kids. We've already cut P.E. in the elementary schools and with these cuts to sports, that leaves our kids without any organized physical activity that won't cost something. Unfortunately most parents anger is misdirected. If the school district doesn't have the money there's nothing they can do about it. The real issue is money that should be going to education is being mis spent somewhere else.
Justin McCaleb, a two-sport senior at Armijo, commented on the cuts’ effects on the high school atmosphere. That’s what is getting cut, the high school experience.
If there are any alternative solutions, they will have to be made before June 30th, when the cuts go into effect. One proposal included a $200 donation from every student athlete, which would cover the stipend cut.
Otherwise, Fairfield high school’s bleachers, activity rooms and classrooms could be indefinitely silent when the end-of-school day bell rings.