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Gorches: Education and sports: Two separate entities

ChestertMunster warm up new field before start their game ChestertHigh School Friday Aug. 26 2011 ChestertInd. The field turf was

Chesterton and Munster warm up on the new field before the start of their game at Chesterton High School Friday, Aug. 26, 2011, in Chesterton, Ind. The field turf was finished being installed only a day before the game. | Scott M. Bort~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: June 5, 2012 11:37AM



How’s the saying go: Don’t mix politics and religion? Separation of church and state?

Something like that.

But there can also be a saying that goes, “Don’t mix sports and politics,” too, though Congress has trouble doing that in recent years (i.e., those darn steroid hearings).

That’s especially true when it comes to high schools, where sports and other aspects of the educational system should never mix.

It seems as though the average reader — or at least a handful of them — don’t know that. In fact, they’re downright disdainful when it comes to the subject, going as far as tossing blame toward athletics for the other problems in education, including financial issues.

In this case, ignorance is definitely not bliss.

Let’s use the Duneland School Corporation as a prime example. I live in that school district and like everyone else living around me who is a registered voter, have a decision to make on Tuesday.

Besides choosing candidates for local, state and national offices, we have to decide whether to vote yes or no on a referendum that would raise property taxes about 22 cents per $100 of assessed value. For a home assessed at $150,000, that’s $330 more taxes per year.

The purpose of the referendum is the same as the one passed in Crown Point last year — to save teachers’ jobs. Duneland Schools have already lost several staff positions after the state cut $5 million from its general fund. But about 20 more teachers, plus clerical staff, will lose their jobs if the majority of Duneland voters say “no” on Tuesday.

Those teachers received reduction in force (RIF) notices last Friday, which is the law. Crown Point did the same thing. And like Crown Point, Duneland hopes those won’t have to be carried out.

So what does this have to do with sports? If you read Quickly or the letters to the editor, you’ll notice some talking about the new field turf Chesterton High School added to its football stadium last summer. In fact, my wife and son, both of whom will also be voting on Tuesday — my son turns 18 this year — also asked me the question: Couldn’t that money be used to save those teachers’ jobs?

The Post-Tribune’s annual award-winning football preview section two years ago explained the intracacies of school funding, and the simple answer to anyone accusing a school corporation of any wrongdoing because it purchased new turf when teachers could be out of work is a flat, “No.”

First off, it’s against federal law since it’s part of the job of state governments to run the general fund of every public school. And that general fund is used to pay staff and utilities, though the latter only accounts for six percent of the fund. Most of the other 94 percent pays the staff.

“The way I’ve explained it in talks with people are that the different funds are silos and they can’t intermingle,” Duneland Schools assistant superintendent Monte Moffett said.

You see, there’s a general fund, and a transportation fund — which includes the much-needed buses — and a capital fund, which is where the turf money came from.

“Not one penny from the general fund went to pay for the turf,” Chesterton High athletic director Garry Nallenweg said.

In case anyone still questions the turf purchase, Nallenweg added that the sub soil base had to be replaced and the field had been resodded two of the last three years before the decision was made to change to field turf because of “drainage concerns.”

It was well worth the $787,000 — $110,000 of which was donated from Friends of Duneland Youth — to add the turf. That money would save lots of teachers’ jobs, but that’s not legal.

“We could fix the roof or add computers with that money, but not one penny of it could have been used to hire teachers,” Moffett said, almost repeating what Nallenweg had stated.

Dipping in one silo to pay for something covered under another silo is not legal. But the silos are also there so citizens better understand the process of keeping a school going financially. Then again, it sounds like several citizens don’t understand, or just need a reason to be angry.

Some may argue that the timing of the field turf purchase was bad. Why do that last year when this referendum was coming up and people like Nallenweg or Moffett or his boss superintendent Dirk Baer would have to toe the company line and explain the process to Duneland citizens?

“What if we waited a year and replaced the field this coming summer?” Moffett asked. “How bad would that look?

“I give the administrators credit for being courageous enough to make that decision because it was best for the kids.”

Maybe not best for your kids, or even my kid since he doesn’t play football. But best for plenty of parents’ kids, and that’s what matters.

That’s what education and financing the educational system is all about. It’s also what sports is all about, even though some non-sports enthusiasts claim sports takes away from the educational system. Taking that away would only hurt the kids.

Just to clarify, I don’t really have a dog in this fight. We aren’t homeowners, so the added tax doesn’t affect us. My son only has one more year of high school, so from a purely selfish standpoint, the loss of teachers would only affect him for one year.

So how am I going to vote? This isn’t the place for me to say, so I’m not telling any other Duneland citizens how to vote. But everyone deserves to know all the facts so ignorance can be prevented.

Remember, it’s about the kids.



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