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CHAMPAIGN — For years, Donna Giertz has been trying to convince her fellow board members that the smartest solution to Parkland College’s financial ills is to eliminate athletics.
And in light of trustees’ vote last month to not renew the contracts of eight of the 15 nontenured faculty members — marking the first layoffs in Parkland’s 50-year existence — Giertz feels more strongly about that stance than ever.
“I mentioned it at the last board meeting when we had to let eight faculty go,” Giertz said Thursday. “We have to phase out sports; we just can’t afford it anymore.”
Not everyone shares her sentiment.
While all programs at Parkland, including athletics, are being assessed in a continuing effort to cut costs, board member Greg Knott says, no decisions have been made, and sports teams won’t be singled out.
“I can’t envision we’ll eliminate athletics,” Knott said.
Trustees are next scheduled to meet on Dec. 14. It’s unlikely that there will be any more certainty about state funding by then, meaning the difficult conversations aren’t over.
But to seriously discuss the idea of dropping athletics isn’t the right move, especially at this time, Knott said.
Just last month, the Cobras’ volleyball program won its second-straight national championship, wrapping up a week that also saw the men’s and women’s soccer programs reach the national finals.
And they’re getting it done in the classroom, too, said Knott, adding that athletic opportunities are one tool the college uses in recruiting students each year.
“From an academic standpoint, the athletes are some of the best of our students at Parkland College,” Knott said. “On the field, they’re producing national championships, so we’re producing results in these young people’s lives, and that makes a difference.”
Still, Giertz maintains the focus needs to be on the academic programs — and not at the expense of operating an athletic department.
“It’s an educational institution, and I hate to see faculty and programs cut,” she said. “When they’re involved in sports, it takes them out of the classroom, and students need to be in class. They travel, too, and that’s very costly.”
In years past, Giertz says, Parkland has spent in the neighborhood of $1 million on athletics. Through cuts in recent years, that number has dipped to a little more than $800,000, she said.
Giertz, who has been on the board since April 2005, said her concerns have fallen on deaf ears whenever she has raised the issue in the past six or seven years.
But she’s not giving up on it.
“I sent out an email about a month ago, and I said it’s time for board members to get their heads out of the sand,” Giertz said. “I’m not very popular, but some are coming to the realization. We just can’t afford anything.”
After last month’s meeting, she says she’s starting to feel some support. At least one other board member, whom she declined to name, is on board with her idea, Giertz says.
“I got an email from the board member, and it just said, ‘We have to start phasing it out,'” she said. “When we approved the budget last time, it was for less, but we still just can’t afford it. We can’t spend that money with zero revenue.”