A Texas school district has temporarily canceled its sports programs and will use the money to make major improvements to education, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times reported.
Premont Independent School District Superintendent Ernest Singleton made the announcement after district trustees were forced to sign an agreement last week with the state to stay open. The southwestern district, which recently earned the state's lowest rating for the second time in three years, had been facing closure as soon as December.
"Our urgent situation requires swift and drastic action," Singleton told the Caller-Times.
The ban will go into effect at the end of basketball season and will run until late fall, the newspaper reported, which means students will go without tennis, track and baseball in the spring and volleyball and football in the fall.
The 700-student district can save a total of $100,000 as a result of the ban and will put the money toward opening two state-required science labs, Singleton said. Money can also go toward needed repairs and teacher salaries in an effort to attract more qualified instructors.
He told the newspaper that while athletics are important for boosting morale and community spirit, the cash-strapped district needs to spend its limited funding wisely, and academics is the top priority. In addition to saving money, canceling sports will also free up teachers to focus solely on instruction.
"If we were a wealthy district and had performance at the right level and we had money in the bank, I wouldn't even consider cutting athletic programs," he said. "It wouldn't even cross my mind. But we're not. And I can't emphasize that enough."
Singleton's decision has its detractors: Parent Irma Cavazos Martinez, whose son is a high school tennis player, said she feels bad for student athletes who will have their seasons canceled.
"I don't think anybody realized the impact of how this was going to be," she told the Caller-Times. "Everybody knew they were going to make drastic changes, but I don't believe they totally understood."
But district board chairwoman Carmela Garcia supports Singleton, saying he had "no choice" but to cut the programs to move into state compliance. A representative from the Texas Education Agency said she knows the district is making a hard decision but that Singleton is doing what he thinks is best.
Singleton said he hopes the community will ultimately support the ban, though it may be unpopular.
"To me, it would be a very sad day in Premont if the only avenue they would choose to rally around saving the district is through sports events," he told the Caller-Times. "I would hope they would be crying out, 'How many positive contributions can we guarantee for the next generation, the next society? How many doctors and lawyers and nurses and mechanics and welders are we going to introduce into the workforce that will contribute positively? And how many are we going to educate to the highest level of standards to perpetuate our democracy?'"