School District's Budget Cutbacks Trigger Dissent : High schools: Coaches say students will suffer most from changes forced by reduction in athletics funding.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Reaction to the Los Angeles Unified School District's cost-cutting measures, which will slash more than $1 million from the athletics budget for the 1991-92 school year, reflects a wide range of discontent among the area's City Section coaches.

Cutbacks include the elimination of junior-varsity football and a reduction of the baseball schedule from 17 conference games to 10. The maximum number of nonconference games allowed in each sport except football was reduced by one, leaving basketball with three nonconference games in addition to a 10-game conference schedule.

The district also has recommended a 13% cut in coaches' stipends, a move that must be negotiated with the teachers' union.

Taft High basketball Coach Jim Woodard said the cuts could have been avoided if the school board had exempted high schools from adopting a year-round calendar, which takes effect Monday.

The board also erred, Woodard said, when it stipulated that the athletic office could not eliminate or alter the winter-session calendar that calls for schools to follow a traditional sports schedule even though 43 of the district's 49 high schools will be closed for six weeks in January and February. The schedule also calls for the elimination of night basketball games during the winter session.

"They wouldn't have had to cut anything out," he said. "They are not getting more out of the facility because it's barren in the winter. There are 3,000 kids in (Taft) and more than half of them are bused in."

North Hollywood Coach Steve Miller, who has guided the Huskies to two consecutive appearances in the City 3-A Division final, agreed.

"It's ludicrous. They could have saved millions," he said. "It was really pretty stupid, but it was typical for the Board of Education."

Nevertheless, Miller is sympathetic toward the district.

"The general feeling is that the district is in the worst shape ever and there are so many things being cut that basketball is minor in terms of teachers' jobs," he said.

Kennedy football Coach Bob Francola expressed similar sentiments but said that he harbored no thoughts of stepping down despite the recommendation for a cut in coaching stipends.

"Nobody's pleased, but we were dealt a hand and we have to sacrifice based on what we were dealt," he said. "I had 60 kids who spent endless hours preparing for the season and I wasn't about to turn my back on them.

"We don't coach for the money and there's little compensation for us as it is. They have got you by the throat and know you're committed. There's nothing you can do."

However, Darryl Stroh, baseball and football coach at Granada Hills High, has no intention of accepting the cuts without a fight. He vowed to meet with other baseball coaches in an effort to protest the reduced schedule, claiming the changes jeopardize the future of City baseball programs. He fears the cuts will force the area's best baseball players to flee City schools for private schools in the Southern Section.

"If you're a dad with a good kid in baseball, what would you do?" he asked. "The cuts are going to drive the quality kids out of the City schools. This is just devastating."

Stroh accused the district leadership of mismanagement and turning public sentiment against education.

"There's enough money but I see mismanagement every day," he said. "This district, it's like sitting around watching someone die of cancer, except occasionally a cancer patient has some good days."

Mike Maio, the El Camino Real football and baseball coach, believes cuts could have been made in other areas to reduce the deficit.

"The amount of the money they save because of the cutbacks is peanuts," he said. "There's a million things that could be done instead of cutting athletics. The football and baseball field are classrooms just like any place. They should be cutting the fat with the downtown people.

"They make me sick. Students should be the last people to be affected and the teachers right there in second. Athletics is a very important part of education and should be available to anybody who wants to participate."

Poly baseball Coach Jerry Cord still holds out hope for a reprieve. But he does believe that baseball has been unfairly singled out with the loss of seven games.

"I've learned to deal with the district and not get too excited about things," he said. "There's always been threats of athletics being cut and teachers being released and all that has turned out to be nonsense.

"It's cheating the kids for the amount of time and effort they put in. You can't expect to make cuts year after year before it is time to put the foot down and find some other way of doing it."

But every coach questioned agreed that in the end the athletes will experience the greatest hardship.

"I feel sorry for the kids who are seniors who have worked their way up to varsity and now they will play all day games," Woodard said. "Their parents might not get to come and the stands will be empty. It will be just like summer league. They're taking away a big part of their high school experience.

"I just feel frustrated."

Staff writer John Lynch contributed to this story.

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