Oct. 13, 2005 — A coaches' strike on St. Croix has not materialized due to a lack of support and organization from the island's coaches.
"We had one meeting in September to talk about the possibility of developing some kind of protest, but the majority of coaches there did not want to start a strike," said Greg Tyler, basketball coach at Central High School. Two subsequent meetings scheduled for coaches to further discuss the matter were canceled for various reasons.
"So, the coaches have continued to maintain the status quo," Tyler said.
Despite the opposition, Tyler said he supports the idea of a strike, as many concerns within athletic departments on St. Croix need to be addressed. Tyler said he also agrees with the activities on St. Thomas, where a strike by high school and junior high school coaches is currently in its fourth week. (See "Coaches to Decide Whether to Continue Strike").
The primary concern for St. Croix is that coaches have to raise money to fund their own sports activities. This includes paying for equipment, referees to work at games and any expenses incurred when players travel off-island to compete, Tyler said.
"There is no budget in the school system for athletics," he said. "When coaches can't raise the money to pay for these things, they have to use their own."
This is difficult for coaches to do, as they have not received a pay increase in 15 years, Tyler said. "Each coach gets a $1,500 stipend for the season," Tyler said, adding that taxes take a good chunk out of the paycheck. "Then we have to use more of that to pay for other things the schools don't have the resources to fund. So, really, there are times we don't get to see much of our stipend money."
Tyler added that coaches may have to use part of the stipend to get players home at the end of practices. "Before they go home, the kids may also want some sort of snack or drink that's more money we provide," Tyler said.
Scott Cofield, also a football coach at Central High School, said this situation is problematic for coaches because they do not want to penalize their players for the lack of budget. "But at the same time, we do want to be able to get some of the money we work for," Cofield said.
To solve this problem, Arthur Solomon, basketball coach at Charlotte Amalie High School on St. Thomas, said Tuesday he is working on an athletic budget package for all local schools, which he will present before the Legislature next month. While Tyler said he approves of the idea, he also said a similar attempt was made by senators five years ago. About $300,000 was appropriated for sports programs in both districts, but the money was never received by the various athletic departments, he said. Instead, Tyler said the money was used by the territory's superintendents at their own discretion.
Tyler said a 20 percent increase in coaching stipends included in the collective bargaining agreement recently ratified by the American Federation of Teachers is not enough. The coaches have not received an increase for 15 years, so Tyler estimated the increase to be about $300, or $20 a year for the 15 years. "It's nothing," Tyler said. "I don't feel as if anything is resolved with that amount."
While Solomon has stated he feels optimistic the AFT may consider adding an amendment to the contract to provide for a higher stipend increase, Tyler said he does not believe the AFT will go into more negotiations.
Tyler also said the AFT will not negotiate on another important issue for coaches the addition of athletic directors and coordinators to school physical education departments. "Because these positions are not currently provided for in the AFT contract, the union has stated they do not support them," Tyler said.
David Urgent, softball coach at St. Croix's Educational Complex, is not part of the union. "I've been coaching here for eight years now and haven't gotten paid for it at all," Urgent said when contacted Thursday. Urgent added this is a concern he hopes to take up with AFT officials, as he believes coaches should be paid for the work they do.
Tyler explained these staff additions are necessary, and will serve to reduce the amount of work placed on coaches during sports seasons. Additionally, Tyler said an athletic director/coordinator would serve as a "mouthpiece" for the coaches when there are problems within the system.
Tyrone Molyneaux, president of St. Croix's AFT, could not be reached for comment Thursday.
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