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CPS sports teams are woefully underfunded, coaches say: ‘It’s just ridiculous’

Coaches say they want more funding for equipment and transportation and better pay for assistants in the new contract being negotiated with the district.

Brad Dowling, who coaches boys basketball at Steinmetz College Prep, explains at a news conference held Monday how hard it is to maintain a regular coaching staff on a shoestring coaching budget.
Nader Issa / Sun-Times

A group of Chicago Public School athletic coaches on Monday called for increased sports funding to be included in a final contract that would bring an end to the current teachers strike.

Schools need more money to cover expenses for everything from uniforms to additional coaches, according to the group, which held a news conference outside Malcolm X College, where negotiations between the Chicago Teachers Union and CPS have been taking place.

Nora Wiltse, a teacher and cross country running coach at Coonley Elementary in the North Center neighborhood, traced many of the issues to the district’s decision to enact a no-cut sports program known as SCORE for 5th-8th graders in 2017.

However, CPS didn’t increase funding to accommodate for the increased participation, she said.

“So our schools have many more athletes and not enough funding or coaches,” she said.

Wiltse said she’s one of two coaches who are expected to provide instruction to 80 runners.

“A 40-1 athlete-to-coach ratio is not okay,” she said.

Funding for uniforms, equipment and transportation isn’t covered by CPS, which creates a huge gap in schools that can afford to cover the costs through fundraising and those that cannot, she said.

Wiltse called on CPS to increase pay for coaches to bring coaching ratios down at the elementary level and to “incentivize and encourage” teachers to become coaches.

She also called for a stipend for volunteers who spend many hours registering and organizing student participation in SCORE.

Underfunding is a problem from grade school through high school, coaches said, noting that many coaches regularly spend what little money their team is allotted on equipment.

Brad Dowling, who coaches boys basketball at Steinmetz College Prep in Belmont Cragin, said he’s had different assistant coaches for each of the last 17 years he’s helmed the team because newcomers realize the they simply can’t give up so much of their lives for so little pay.

“A freshman coach after taxes makes maybe about $1,000,” he said.

He went on: “It’s just ridiculous. Something has to change.”

Other complaints boiled down to inequities between playing fields and facilities, as well as a lack of transportation to and from games and practices.

“We don’t have an ice machine for kids who get hurt to have quick access to ice,” said Alison Eichhorn, a varsity softball coach at Lindblom Math and Science Academy.

CPS officials declined to comment.