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Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Extra Pay for H.S. Coaches Sparks Controversy
Published: March 2, 2008
By The Associated Press
Extra money for Arkansas high school football coaches and, in many cases, lighter teaching duties, perhaps requiring no time in a classroom at all is drawing criticism from a legislative leader and some state educators.

The additional pay for the head football coaches is as much as $30,000 a year in some cases, according to an article Sunday in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, reporting on an investigation carried out by the newspaper.

"I feel like the districts are gaming the system to steer exorbitant dollars to athletic purposes," said state Sen. Jim Argue, D-Little Rock, chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

"I think that the mothers and fathers of Arkansas need to be thinking about the kind of educational preparation its going to take ... for their children to reach their greatest potential," he continued. "I'm absolutely convinced that proficiency in football will not produce good results."

Russellville High School teacher Paul T. Gray Jr., this year's Arkansas Teacher of the Year, said there are teachers at most Arkansas high schools who resent the additional money going to football coaches who make more money, may work less and may not even have to deal with students off the football field.

"The primary function of anyone who is getting paid a teacher salary is to teach," Gray said. "The first thing on any contract is that they are a teacher. Coaching responsibilities are added in on the bottom of the contract."

The state's 194 head football coaches draw more than $11 million altogether in tax dollars each year. More than $1.6 million of that goes to coaches who don't teach any classes. Some coaches are athletic directors or perform other nonacademic functions, but all are paid out of teacher salary funds.

Glen Rose High School Coach Billy Elmore doesn't teach classes but works as the school's athletic director and maintenance director. His contract, however, lists him as a teacher.

"My duties are basically outside a classroom," he said.
Elmore is certified to teach and has worked in schools for 13 years. Elmore will move to Arkadelphia High School this fall to coach that school's team and will likely teach classes at his new school. He said it's not fair to slam coaches who don't teach because most of them have other work duties.

Ben Mays of Clinton, who was on the Clinton School Board for 20 years and now serves as a member of the state Education Board, questions whether state education dollars should finance athletics.

"The training and the fielding of a football team is a strictly local option thing," Mays said. "It's not part of the constitutional mandate (to provide all students with an adequate education). If an area chooses to do that and they take money out of state funds to do that with, I think that's kind of questionable whether that's an acceptable expenditure."

Greenwood High School head football coach Rick Jones is the third-highest-paid football coach in the state, making more than $89,000 a year. He makes over $34,000 more than teachers at his school with the same years of experience and education level, and he never sets foot in a traditional classroom.

"I know that compared to some great men and women that I know and have known, I am grossly overpaid compared to them," Jones said. "I sometimes think that the question shouldn't be how much we pay the coaches, it should be how can we pay our fantastic teachers more."

Jones, who has no administrative duties, coaches middle and high school football teams three periods a day and has planning time and lunch for the remaining four.

Argue says the background of many school administrators and local board members may play a role in the situation.
"Part of the thing that reinforces the culture here ... is that the leadership of the school districts is by and large made up of ex-coaches," Argue said. "That influences our inability to get the focus on academics. It's a corrosive, all-consuming culture."

Another member of the state Education Board, Dr. Naccaman Williams, said he's not surprised that some districts allow head coaches to concentrate on their teams.

"For me, the first question I would have is, 'Are they offering the full 38 units of the core curriculum?' If they're offering the full curriculum, then I'm open to defer to the local school board. There is a balance there."

But Mays said the state should control and in many cases reduce athletic spending until Arkansas schools are academically and financially sound.

"The problem I have is when schools are complaining they don't have enough money to run their academic programs and yet they're spending money ... to run their sports programs that we don't have any constitutional mandate to do," Mays said.

He said, however, that his complaints largely fall on deaf ears at the Capitol and during state board meetings.

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