SAUGANASH — Chicago Public Schools officials Wednesday reversed plans to eliminate the district’s elementary school sports programs — but warned that schools would have to find a way to pay coaches, buy equipment and get players to games.
Randy Ernst, CPS' executive director of sports administration, said in a letter sent to principals Tuesday afternoon that the district "would provide guidance, support and coordination for elementary sports."
But for that assistance, schools will have to pay the district's office of sports administration $50 per team to "coordinate" the league, according to Ernst's letter.
Hours before Ernst's announcement, DNAinfo Chicago reported that 20 Northwest Side schools had formed their own league to ensure that students got a chance to play 11 sports during the 2015-16 school year.
Bill McCaffrey, a spokesman for CPS, said Ernst's letter did not represent a change, but was intended to "clarify" the district's policy.
CPS officials announced several weeks ago they would eliminate funding for elementary school sports teams and stipends for 5,300 grade school coaches to save $3.2 million. The district faces a $1.1 billion budget deficit.
Ernst's letter said the district will not restore the stipends for coaches, and warned schools that if they wanted to field teams they would have to pick up the tab.
Schools will not only have to compensate coaches for their time as provided in the district's contract with the Chicago Teachers Union but also pay for referees, equipment, uniforms and transportation, according to Ernst's letter.
Many schools already bore those costs, other than the coaches' stipends, several school sources said Wednesday.
School officials had been told during the last several weeks that district officials would not sponsor any elementary school sports or offer any help scheduling games, providing referees or setting up championship games, several sources said.
Taft High School's Local School Council voted two weeks ago to give its feeder schools $18,000 to ensure they were able to field sports teams during the 2015-16 school year.
That inspired Sauganash Elementary School Athletic Director Sean Kennedy to form the Northside 20 league, to ensure that students would be able to continue to play sports through their schools.
The schools are set to compete against each other in a number of sports, including co-ed flag football, girls volleyball, cross country and boys soccer in the fall, Kennedy said.
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