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It's official — Portland Public Schools will be reunited in the Portland Interscholastic League for the first time in nine years.

But, as with all major changes, a group of parents is not happy, asking for the district to step up and invest an additional $2.5 million into the athletic program this year so students can safely compete.

Starting next school year, PPS’ nine high schools will be competing at a 6A level classification level in a unified league. Seven of the nine play at 5A, and Grant and Lincoln play at 6A.

The Oregon School Activities Association’s executive board and delegate assembly voted Monday to approve the proposal, raised less than eight weeks ago by PPS’ new athletic director, Marshall Haskins.

Since Cleveland’s enrollment has grown, the school will not have to play up under the new classification. The others (Benson, Franklin, Jefferson, Madison, Roosevelt and Wilson) would be playing up.

That brings safety and budgetary concerns for the group that calls itself “PIL Fan Base,” who’ve been seeking answers from district leaders since before the proposal was announced. Parents have been asking for more money to support athletic trainers, transportation costs and other items that have been slashed in the budget.

“Many of the teams in the PIL are not competitive and will likely be even less competitive in a move to 6A classification,” the parents wrote in a letter after the second public meeting on the issue. “Why? The slashed athletics budget is killing our teams and the trend, given the current budget, points toward demoralizing experiences, unsafe settings/situations, and uncompetitive match-ups.”

The parents met with district leaders to ask questions about the impacts of the cuts on the athletic programs, like “What kind of risk assessment did PPS perform related to student safety before reducing funding for athletic trainers?”

In response, PPS Superintendent Carole Smith on Oct. 7 proposed returning $900,000 to the athletic program, part of the $6.5 million added to schools for the school year. The extra funds came from updated budget figures that showed an additional $16 in the budget due to utility savings, reduced Public Employee Retirement System costs, under-spending, higher than forecasted local option revenue and an increased federal technology reimbursement.

Most of the new funds will put at least 50 teachers and staff back in the classrooms to reduce class size.

The $900,000 in athletic program funds will support additional trainers and transportation costs for high school teams, as well as freshman and junior varsity coaches.

Parents say that's not nearly enough.

“The parent and student community is already doing its part through the payment of participation fees, game/event fees, and team fundraising," parents wrote in their letter. "PPS needs to step up to the plate and fund the base athletic program. PPS should not consider that their basic obligations will be covered through an increase in the gate receipts, additional fees on student-athletes, and increased parent fundraising, as those are funds generated by the community…not by PPS.”

A ‘lofty pipe dream?’

Lisa Zuniga, a mother of three student athletes, is a member of the PIL Fan Base. She says her daughter, a junior in track and basketball at Franklin, ended up at the emergency room twice in high school — once with a concussion from basketball and once after falling on the last hurdle and landing hard on both knees.

“Neither time there was a trainer around,” Zuniga says. “For the concussion I was there. But the track meet I was not there. My phone starts ringing, ‘You need to get here right away.' It’s stressful.”

Like many parents, Zuniga will be around athletics for a long time to come. Her eighth-grader plays football and basketball and her sixth-grader plays football.

The PIL Fan Base conducted an online Zoomerang survey to get a sense of people’s feelings about moving to 6A districtwide. The survey collected 511 responses between Sept. 26 and Oct. 23, the majority of them parents of student athletes.

The overarching themes, Zuniga says, “were that participating PPS sports is often unsafe, inequitable and demoralizing.” One response, for example:

“It is generally ludicrous to think that the PPS dream of having teams compete against 6A schools with astronomically higher budgets and better infrastructure will end with anything other than defeated teams, deflated students and worse morale than there is today with regard to our ability to compete on a level playing field. Shameful pipe dream. There needs to be action and yes, money behind the lofty pipe dreams of the PPS.”

For the district's FAQ on the changes, go to www.pps.k12.or.us/files/news/Family-Advisory-Portland-Interscholastic-League-FAQ.pdf

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