Budget Battle Heats Up in Florida

January 29, 2015
By Patrick Bohn

School districts across the country are battling shrinking budgets, and as a result, sports teams are often on the chopping block. In Duval County (Fla.), the budget woes have prompted threats of cuts and a response from the community that might save certain sports.

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Duval was facing a budget deficit of nearly $91 million, and needed to find at least $14 million in savings. As a result, the school made the decision to cut 10 varsity sports, including tennis, lacrosse, cross country, boys' wrestling, girls' slow-pitch softball, and both golf programs. The cuts would result in savings of around $450,000.

Predictably, the move was not popular, particularly with regard to cross country. Several cross country teams held a community run in Jacksonville to protest the cuts.

"It's just kind of a solidarity run, and we thought we should pick a neutral venue; one of the places our kids run in the off season is downtown, over the bridges," Tony Ryan, Head Cross Country Coach at Bolles High School, told First Coast News. "So we said let's meet downtown. What started out as just a run with about 50 kids has snowballed from there."


Several former professional tennis players such as Todd Martin and MaliVai Washington have written letters to the school board in protest. Washington, who was the runner-up at Wimbledon in 1996, asked players to gather outside a June 13 board meeting in a silent protest.

As a result of the outpouring of support, some of the sports may be saved. After the school board announced that private fundraising would be needed in order to save several sports, Duval County Athletic Director Jon Fox met with supporters of some programs and emerged confident they could continue.

"I've met with leaders of the golf community this week, as well as tennis, cross country and lacrosse," Fox told the Florida Times-Union. "I'm very optimistic after these meetings that all four of these sports will be saved. We're not there yet, but each group truly understands our plight. I'm feeling much better than I was. It's been heartwarming and gratifying. These were very fruitful discussions."


In addition to community support, Fox has also discussed other ways to keep the sports teams afloat. He plans to start a foundation designed to help raise money to fund public school sports, although the creation of that foundation would not be immediate, and would serve more to prevent future cuts than save current teams.

"That's Round 2," he told the Times-Union. "At some point, we'll bring the people together who are the movers and shakers in their respective sports and come up with something that will sustain us down the road."


Fox also says the district is considering instituting a pay-to-play system, something that is increasingly common for schools facing budget shortfalls. While the idea needs to be explored further, Fox estimated that a $50 per-sport fee for high school students could raise $200,000-$250,000, while a $40 fee for middle school students could raise another $100,000.

Patrick Bohn is an Assistant Editor at Athletic Management.

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