Cross Country: CPS coaches’ pay doesn’t add up

Story Image Whitney Young High School Cross Country runners Shianne Baggett and Veronica Rozynek (L) will run in conjunction with the Chicago Marathon on Sunday October 9, 2011. Their coach is Bob Geiger. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

By most measures, cross country is one of the great success stories of Public League sports.

Participation is climbing as more schools open and look for affordable athletic options for their students. It may take a while to build a football program, but all a cross country team needs is a coach, a few kids and a nearby park to practice in.

Last year’s Public League meet at Washington Park drew 58 teams and more than 1,500 runners. This year’s city meet, scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 13 again at Washington Park should feature similar quantity along with plenty of quality.

Seven Public League schools have sent boys or girls teams to state since 2008: Jones, Kenwood, Lane, Mather, Northside, Payton and Young, with Jones and Northside qualifying both boys and girls.

Class expansion has played a role in that, with mid-sized schools in the city and elsewhere having chances to do more than they ever could under the old two-class system. But it’s not just the increased opportunities that have sparked this distance-running revival in the city.

Give credit also to some coaches who have found a way to make this sport more at home in forest preserves thrive in an urban environment. They are a dedicated bunch, people like Young’s Bob Geiger, Jones’ Andrew Adelmann, Mather’s Dale DeVinney, Lane’s Kris Roof and Northside’s Jon Gordon among others.

They’ve built programs, not just one-off teams, and coached some great individuals like Young’s Lavinia Jurkiewicz, the Class 3A state champ in 2010, and Jones’ Jamison Dale, a two-time all-stater in Class 2A.

There is one place, though, the city programs and their coaches lag far behind the pack: pay.

Public League coaches all get paid the same rate, $24.10 an hour for fiscal year 2013, according to the newly negotiated contract between the Chicago Public Schools and its teachers. The hourly rate rises to $24.58 and then $25.08 in the next two years.

But all CPS head coaches aren’t treated equally. Some (basketball, football) get paid for 240 hours work per season ($5,784 in fiscal 2013), while others (swimming, wrestling, track and field, gymnastics, soccer, baseball, softball, volleyball, water polo, lacrosse) are compensated for 200 hours ($4,820). Near the bottom of the salary ladder are cross country, tennis and golf, whose head coaches are paid for just 65 hours ($1,566.50).

Why the difference? According to a CPS spokesman: “Coaches’ salaries are budgeted on the best estimate of the hours that are required to effectively coach a season in a particular sport or activity. Those estimates are drawn from experience with the sports administration staff and sports coordinators, many of whom were coaches themselves.”

Let’s stipulate here that all CPS coaches are underpaid, given the hours they put in and the resources they have. But in terms of pay vs. performance, no one has it worse than cross country coaches.

“I worked 65 hours before the school year even began,” Geiger said. “I could call it a season and get paid.”

But he won’t. He’ll keep working unpaid hours because he wants his program to remain competitive not just at the city level, but also with suburban and private schools. And he’ll do it with a roster of more than 70 girls and just the one assistant the CPS allows cross country programs (football and basketball are among the sports with additional coaches).

The question is how long Geiger and the other dedicated CPS cross country coaches will stick with it when they could make a lot more money elsewhere. In the District 214 high schools in the northwest suburbs, head cross country coaches make anywhere from four to five times as much as their Public League counterparts, depending on experience.

“Teachers aren’t selfish people,” Geiger said. “But we’re not stupid either. If we get a chance to make more money doing the same thing, we’re going to do it.”

Geiger appreciates that his teaching salary is on a par with what he’d make in the suburbs. And he knows that raising coaching salaries is a tough sell when the city and its schools are both hurting financially. But he would like to see all CPS coaches get paid more.

“We as coaches can sit here and scream and yell,” he said. “But the bottom line is our job is to work with the kids and make kids better.

“It would be nice to see the recognition and respect.”

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