Could a district-run sports program be on the horizon for early next year?
Last week the Manteca Unified Board of Education voted to instruct staff to come back in February with a budgeted item that could transfer the power and the execution of the Manteca Unified Student Trust – also known as MUST – into control of the district instead of the separate entity that currently operates it.
The item ended up on the agenda after it was disclosed that MUST might not have enough money to cover their expenses for the next year, despite the fact that students are charged to participate and parents are charged an admission fee to watch games.
According to coach Ross Clark, the model itself needs to once again fall under the umbrella of the district to benefit not only the students and families who might not be able to cover the fees but also to preserve the opportunity for those who enjoy being a part of the after-school program.
“I just believe that the MUST program has run its course and the kids aren’t getting what they need out of it,” Clark said. “We used to be a pre-training program for the high schools – teaching them how to get ready for playing there – but now even that has been taken away from us.”
Manteca Unified administrators cut the funding for the old Acorn League – the district-run sports program that featured football, volleyball, basketball, softball and track-and-field – when they were facing massive budget deficits in order to save $250,000.
But some teachers, like Leo-Bennett Cauchon, believe that the money is there and that it needs to be appropriated to the right places – something that can be achieved by incorporating the organization of after school sports under the district’s banner and budget.
“I would like to urge the board to take an explicit action today,” Bennett-Cauchon said. “The memorandum of understanding says that after a 30-day written notice you can review the whole thing. MUST is broken, and when our tablets were broken we fixed them – at a cost of $200,000.
“We shouldn’t not have a program like MUST and they shouldn’t lose it – the students shouldn’t lose the option to play this year.”
The board initially rejected the proposal to call for a request for proposal to entities seeing who would be interested in offering a program, instead asking district administration to create a new program of its own in the same vein as the now-defunct Acorn League that would be funded by the district.
Funding to make that possible will be drafted by the district and if approved could eliminate the participation fees and the admission fees to events.
Back in 2011 MUST Executive Director Wendy King turned down a $75,000 offer from the district to subsidize the program because she didn’t want the public scrutiny that came along with it. King, who served for a period of time as the President of the Board of Education, was paid a $20,000 salary for her work at MUST which operated as an independent entity from the district itself.
According to Clark, coaches were becoming harder and harder to find as rules and formatting were reconfigured over the years and that without some sort of district intervention – aside from the funding issue – it would be nearly impossible for the programs to continue. Coaches in various sports saw their stipends cut back numerous times, he said, and they were required to referee games other than the ones that their teams were participating in. That task was previously handled by referees that were paid for by the district.