Early on in his life, Jim Richardson set his sights on doing two things: becoming a cop, like his father, and becoming an Olympic gold medal champion.
“Well, I fell a little short on the Olympics,” says Richardson, who is the police chief in Grand Meadow, Minn. Though he did never earn a spot on the Olympics team, the long-time wrestler did earn a number of international and national sports awards. But more importantly, he’s earned the trust and respect of the many high school students he’s coached over the last 15 years.
“I like to get the kids who are skinny on life and feed him my recipe and let him just play,” Richardson says. “Tell him, ‘You know, some problems just aren’t that big.’”
Unfortunately, the current state of the economy is and Grand Meadow, like many other school districts across the country is running up against hard financial times, as state and local revenue dwindle and operational costs continue to rise. Just last year, the small, rural district came out of statutory debt, though that may be shortlived, since the state has already indicated that it will keep state aid flat next year, after giving schools a paltry two percent increase this year.
“That two percent, all it did was help us pay for the diesel fuel for three buses,” says Grand Meadow Superintendent Joe Brown. “I wish someone would tell me how they came up with the inflation rate for schools because our diesel fuel doubled, our food costs went up double-digit, and our health care costs went up 12 percent.”
Grand Meadow was just one of a handful of schools I highlighted in my ASBJ feature, “Making the Cut,” now available online. As the economy continues to spiral downward, hurting schools that are already stretched thin, district officials are having to make tough choices and many of them are eyeing sports programs as a place to streamline or even eliminate.
While it may be a quick fix, it comes with long-term consequences.
“In Minnesota, you know what the number one growth industry is? Prisons and county jails,” Brown says. “That bothers me. To the people that say we need to cut sports from schools, well, get ready to build more prisons because you either pay now or you pay later.”
Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor