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LA Unified sports coaches seeking their first raise since 1999

Vanessa Romo | April 29, 2015

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Crenshaw FootballWhile teachers have been celebrating a new contract deal that will lead to a 10.4 percent salary increase over two years, most LA Unified athletic coaches are still waiting for their first raise since 1999.

District officials at a Curriculum and Instruction Committee meeting yesterday estimated that 58 percent of school team coaches — the ones running football drills, perfecting swim strokes and tweaking backhands — are “at will employees” with no union representation. That has left them excluded from bargaining negotiations without any prospects of getting a bump in their $2,175 per season stipend.

“When you break it down to a regular season, not counting any of the extra work that coaches have to do, they’re making $8.63 per hour,” Trenton Cornelius, a district Interscholastic Athletic coordinator, told the committee, chaired by board member Mónica Ratliff.

The average coach, according to district data, works at least 18 hours per week for approximately 14 weeks, not including playoffs.

Ironically, the most successful coaches earn even less. When a team makes it to a state finals competition, the season is extended by another six weeks or about 108 additional hours, but a coach’s pay remains unchanged. The average hourly wage in this case is reduced to $6.04. Meanwhile, the district plans to pay raise the minimum wage for members of the services workers union, SEIU 99, to $15 an hour by 2016-17.

Eighty three schools across the district offer organized sports programs for 30,000 students. In all, they can participate in 14 sports, including baseball, cross country, soccer and one girls wrestling team.

Cornelius argued that the low pay, which is about 40 percent below that of comparable districts, coupled with a new district rule that sets the minimum age for coaches at 21, makes it difficult to recruit talented sports team leaders. It also puts a heavy burden on what are essentially volunteers “who coach because they love kids, not because they’re trying to get rich” by actively fundraising for school athletic programs, he added.

As the district faced a multitude of “Sophie’s Choice” budget decisions throughout the recession years, funding for school sports was decimated if not eliminated entirely. And despite the recent state surge in revenues for schools, the district’s athletic programs remain underfunded. As a result, coaches picked up the slack to pay for materials and fees once covered by the district, including uniforms, equipment, tournament fees and even referees.

But learning to handle money raised through car washes and raffles is a complicated business when untrained, part-time seasonal employees are forced to comply with district regulations. And that can put schools and the district in murky legal terrain.

“Most of our coaches, they don’t know the rules,” Cornelius explained.

Students have also been forced to cover for the district by paying for their own uniforms and competition fees. And “that puts most schools in violations of state laws,” Cornelius told the committee.

California schools are forbidden to charge parents or students for educational activities.

Further complicating matters are unforeseen consequences of well intentioned district policies. Breakfast in the Classroom and healthy food and drink regulations that ban the sale of junk food on campus student stores and vending machines have cut into a crucial fund-raising source.

“Now the kids are giving that money to someone else,” he said, and Ratliff agreed, saying the district should revisit the ban on junk food.

Ratliff also raised the question of reaching out to local professional sports teams.

“Have we though about doing that?” she asked Cornelius.

“Yes,” he said, “but those are usually one-time” sources of revenue, he explained.

That prompted board member George McKenna to recall a time once he asked the Lakers for help when he was a school principal.

“They gave us 100 basketballs,” he scoffed. “I never asked them for help again.”

But Cornelius says coaches need help. At the moment, they need better compensation: He says a raise to $15.36 for varsity coaches and $13.21 for lower level coaches would be a great victory.

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