Coaches ask for pay reductions amid budget cuts

To save athletic programs, Coupeville School District’s coaches are sacrificing their bonuses.

To save athletic programs from imminent budget cuts, Coupeville School District’s coaches are willingly sacrificing their bonuses and part of their stipends.

On May 23, Athletic Director Willie Smith and his successor, Brad Sherman, wrote a letter to Superintendent Steve King asking for the district to reduce coaching stipends by 10% — or by about $12,000 — and to eliminate post-season bonus pay for eligible coaches — about $8,000.

“We believe our sports programs and activities provide a strong connection and partnership with this community, and it’s part of what makes Coupeville very special,” they wrote.

In the past, they wrote, the district eliminated “any possibility of C-Teams,” Boys Tennis and the Athletic Trainer Position — which was saved thanks to a fundraiser.

According to Sherman and Smith — who is resigning at the end of the current school year — the district has a history of not restoring funds cut from athletic programs and activities. For this reason, they said, coaches would rather see their pay reduced rather than letting program cuts negatively affect students and the community.

Coaches have not received a pay raise since 2019 and have lower salaries compared to other coaches in the region, according to a message the district sent to the community last week.

According to the athletic directors, an inexperienced coach in other school districts, like La Conner or Friday Harbor, makes more than a coach with 20 years of experience in Coupeville.

“Our coaches do not do what they do for the money. It’s for the love of our kids, passion for their sports and activities, and a deep desire to build programs of significance,” they wrote.

The district, which is bracing to end the school year with a negative fund balance, is expecting to cut $1.66 million from the 2024-25 budget in order to restore the fund balance to 6%, as discussed in previous school board meetings.

Last month, the board approved a controversial modified education plan that eliminates six certificated staff positions — by attrition and layoffs. The new plan also temporarily eliminates the secondary band and music program and an elementary specialist program — either STEM or art/music.

In its message to the community, the district listed more areas subjected to the pruning. However, King wrote in an email to the Whidbey News-Times, student enrollment and contracts can further change these plans.

This past year is an example of how the district can be forced to deviate from its plans. After his position was eliminated, Tom Black returned to the district on a part-time basis to cover for High School Vice Principal Leonard Edlund, who has been on medical leave since September and was originally expected to return in January.

Following Edlund’s recent announcement that he is resigning due to his health, the district is now seeking a new assistant principal.

If things go according to plan, work days for custodians, food service workers (including the food service director), and maintenance and grounds employees will be reduced. The only school accountant is leaving, and her position will be eliminated by attrition.

Online curriculum subscriptions are also being cut. The district also plans to reduce copy machine and printer leases, food service operating costs, substitute expenses for classified staff members, paraeducator support, staff support, one bus route and the building budget.

While the latter will see a 10% cut, the district has yet to announce more details about the other reductions as it continues to work with unions, King wrote.

These cuts will amount to $1.13 million. The district is also increasing revenues by about $485,000 through new programs and more state funding for special education, which will help meet the $1.6 million reduction goal, King wrote.