School Board Chairwoman and superintendent discuss termination of coaches'

OROVILLE – Some people were surprised when the Oroville School Board voted to terminate all coach’s contracts for next year at their last board meeting.

Tedi Fletcher, who is the school board’s chairwoman, said although some of the public might have been surprise by the action, “all the coaching staff and all the teachers knew it was up for a vote ahead of the Monday, March 30 meeting.

“We started looking at ways we could cut our expenditures a year ago,” said Fletcher, who adds the state still hasn’t given the school districts a firm answer on how much it will be cutting from their school funding.

“Just because the contract was terminated now does not mean we will not be having any high school sports next year,” Fletcher said. “But we were advised by our legal council that we should terminate the contracts at this time.”

Fletcher said the district needs to get a better picture of what the district’s revenues will be before deciding what it can afford in the way of sports next year.

“Our junior high music program might be next on the list… and I can’t in good consciousness cut classrooms for sports,” she said. “We had several parents, some parents of athletes, come up after the meeting and say things like “you know what, I had no idea how bad the situation was, is there anything we can do to help?'”

Fletcher said no specific sports have been cut and she’d like to see them all retained, especially the sports that can be used throughout ones lifetime like golf and tennis.

“We’re not trying to do anything underhanded… we are trying to look out for the kids in all sports, but we can’t promise money for anything if we don’t know in any shape or form how much revenues will be next year,” said Fletcher.

Superintendent Ernie Bartelson took issue with some of the statements made by Chuck Ricevuto, head of the OCA, the Oroville coaches’ union. He said he sent a letter about the possible board action to the district staff and to Kevin Kinman “who sends it on to most of the community via the Booster’s Club.” The letter was sent a week before the board meeting in which the decision was made.

“The only response to that letter was an email from Chuck Ricevuto critical of the word “termination’ and the “16 month pool.’ I explained to Chuck that the wording and the pool language came directly out of the coach’s master contract.”

“Article I, Section E, Subsection c states that the board may declare a sport terminated for any reason and a hiring pool of the coaching staff affected will be in force for 16 months,” said Bartelson.

“When quoting contract language, we must use the exact terminology quoted in the contract and exact time limits on calendar language. Mr. Ricevuto’s charges that “coaches and the public were caught off guard’ appears to be a bit self-serving on his part,” Bartelson said.

As to Ricevuto’s charge that the 16 month pool could be a way of eliminating coaches the superintendent says the OCA head is the only person he is aware of who thinks that way.

“I don’t. The board doesn’t. The AD doesn’t. I doubt if even the coaches feel that way,” Bartelson said. “I did say at the March 30th meeting that current contract language prohibits the board from extending the pool beyond 16 months and if the budget crisis goes beyond that time, the board should look at making adjustments to the pool language. The board understood my comment to mean that they would extend the pool until the crises was over. Why Mr. Ricevuto didn’t understand that is a mystery.”

With regard to the coach’s claim that he thought the coaches and community would get a chance to give their input, Bartelson feels that was his way of suggesting the staff and community will not have a chance to do so. The superintendent says the Oroville Education Association, the coaches and the Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) have already given the district copies of their recommendations on cost cutting.

“Because we still do not have the state’s budget information, we do not know the full impact of the budget cuts… When we have budget information and we know what the damage is, I have been invited to meet with the Oroville Booster’s Club and the Oroville Chamber of Commerce to explain our situation and ask for recommendations and suggestions,” said the Superintendent.

In addition, the board will create a community committee to review the district’s budget situation and offer assistance and counsel to the board.

“The point being that the board has all of the recommendations submitted thus far from at least three sources and will receive recommendations from two to three more sources. At this time, they don’t know what to do with those recommendations since they do not have the budget information they have to have to use those recommendations,” said the superintendent.

Bartelson agrees that he and the board have asked the coaches to be patient until they better understand what position the district will be in after the state funding cuts and because of the loss of levy equalization monies next year. He feels that 20 out of the 21 coaches and assistant coaches have been patient.

“They know their board and administration know the value of athletics and will do everything humanly possible to put every sport they can on schedule next year. We know some activities will have to be suspended for two years. Because of the declining enrollment and the loss of teams in our league to the same crisis we face, we may have to drop some activities. Twenty coaches understand that concept and are willing to be patient until the funding information is available,” he said.

The superintendent said one important comment regarding extracurricular activities was made at the March 30 Board meeting by Carlos Herrera, a high school wrestler. He asked if coaches could volunteer and work for free.

“When a school director asked if that was possible, Mr. Ricevuto said “the coaches have agreed to work for free.’ If that is the case, there is little doubt that all of our sports activities will be scheduled for next year. However, it has been my understanding that the coaches association agreed to a 25 percent reduction in coaching salaries,” Bartelson said.