Friday, March 22, 2013

Football Is Not Free

At the last board meeting, our normally unflappable superintendent seemed shocked at the last paragraph of ORYA's proposed agreement with the district on football. The document is now public (pdf, my marked-up copy: page1 page2) and here's the last paragraph:
In the event that the ORCSD in any way tries to terminate, manipulate and or interferes with the growth of football within the first 4 years of this agreement, ORCSD shall be responsible for the initial startup expenses. Prior to the start of the first season ORYA will provide a detailed accounting to the ORCSD of all startup expenses.
I've been to every meeting and this is news to me.  I heard many times how the program was cost-free to the district. I heard many times that the board could just approve now as they would have a second opportunity to pull the plug in a couple of years when the club team becomes a varsity team. No one mentioned that canceling comes with a substantial bill.

Actually, as I read this, a board member just saying he or she might not support the varsity team approval could count as the district trying to terminate or interfere with the growth.  Perhaps even just putting the varsity team vote on the agenda is sufficient to trigger the bill.

Do you want to know how a  football program fully funded by ORYA becomes a football program fully funded by the taxpayers?  According to the proposed agreement, it's up to ORYA:

While it is not the intent to terminate, ORYA reserves the right to terminate its involvement in this agreement with 90 days'[sic] notice.  Any and all additional expenditures from the date of notice forward shall be the responsibility of the ORCSD.

Wow.  Is "date of notice" a little extra screwage?  If the district has to start paying on the date the notice is issued, what's the 90 days for?

Update: My wife points out this post is humorless.  She's right.  What did the mother of the first Jewish president say on Inauguration Day? "See that boy with his hand on the Bible? His brother is a doctor."

The two page contract is riddled with ambiguities, grammatical errors and typos. It's mostly about how ORYA handles all the money and how the district has to fork over more to them when certain things happen.  The district doesn't even get to hang onto the money it collects: it has to hand it over to ORYA and hope it gets it back.

The contract clearly indicates football is not free to the taxpayers. The last two points are:

  • The program and or ORYA will not be charged for any administrative charges provided by the school in supporting the operations of the program.
  • The ORCSD shall provide any and all required athletic trainers as required by its school policies.

So, the document indicates that multiple trainers and administrative charges are explicitly paid for by the district.  That doesn't sound free.  While clear on some things it won't pay for, the document is pretty vague about what ORYA actually will pay for.  Use of existing facilities?  Wear and tear on the field?  Achieving a particular safety standard?  Fees and equipment for underprivileged players?  Staff time?  Renting lights? The document doesn't say.  Is this intended to be the entire agreement between the district and ORYA?

On March 6 we did previously get a presentation with a sample budget:

The proposal gives ORYA a weird incentive to lowball individual budget line items as the taxpayers may be liable for overruns. The superintendent refers to $10,000 in costs not in the ORYA budget in this clip:

What started out to me as a wholesome and enthusiastic group of families trying to get football into the high school now has me feeling a bit like I'm being deceived. For a program that was billed as cost-free to the taxpayers ORYA's proposal has the district paying for substantial parts of the program, with lots of traps triggering additional district payments.  ORYA proposed they be allowed to end their support immediately whenever they like while the district is hit with tens of thousands in penalties if it even thinks about opting out.

Who's going to pay for a varsity team as fundraising wanes in the years ahead? Who's going to pay for the girl sports impelled by Title IX? Who's going to pay for the cheerleading squad and the marching band? Are the taxpayers really in the mood to fund any of this? The people who would normally show up to complain about the spending have largely remained silent.  It's my turn to be the grumpy old man.

I'm not that grumpy.  If the district wants to go down a path toward a fully funded varsity football team with cheerleaders, a marching band and girls curling I'll pay my share. I'd just like to know how much it costs ahead of time.

Let's close with the clip of Superintendent Morse's comment on this proposal. He refers to the document as an "MOU" (Memorandum of Understanding), as did the March 6 presentation, though the document refers to itself as a contract, which to me denotes something much more binding than an MOU.


  1. Contract written by ORYA states ORCSD must pay in part for football.

    Despite what is claimed at meetings, the ORYA contract states the ORCSD must spend considerably for football in years 1-4 even if the football program is not canceled within that time.

    The contract states from Day Zero, ORCSD is responsible for hiring and paying multiple trainers, paying for any and all overages (whatever those might include,) the salaries covering the AD's time on task, and salaries for the budget monitoring personnel. Unstated are payments for field use, lighting, medical care, officials. Who pays for and administers those issues? What other costs to ORCSD will be discovered?

    Thank goodness the majority (vote was 5-2) of the ORCSD School Board had the presence of mind to protect the taxpayers by taking the time to proceed with due diligence and study this obligation completely before making their decision.
    Imagine the unexpected financial liability and lack of good faith shown to our three towns had taxpayers been obligated to this proposed contract at last Wednesday's meeting.

  2. Thanks, Deborah. You're totally right, and I've integrated some of your points into the post.

  3. I've gotten some email asking me to fix the old title "Football Not Free If Cancelled" which, while true, is misleading in that football's not free if it's not cancelled, either. I've changed the title to reflect that. - Dean

  4. I got an email from someone I respect very much telling me I should stop picking on board members or no one will ever serve. It's a fair point.

    I lean pretty heavily on the public record on minutes, agendas, video of meetings, public Twitter and Facebook accounts, the district’s public correspondence, websites, newspapers, court documents, mass emails and so on. My feeling is this stuff is fair game, and that there's nothing wrong with examining what our public officials or candidates say in public. I think that's what citizens are supposed to do.

    All the board members deserve our respect and gratitude. They do a very tedious job with little or no pay, endless board and committee meetings, long hours of work in between and lots of laws to follow. Not to mention the stream of difficult and controversial decisions that must be made. On top of all that, they have to listen to jerks like Rubine harping on everything they do.

    So I appreciate being told I've gone too far. The school board is not some far-off legislature. These are our friends and neighbors serving. We're all going to be living together for a long time. I should be able to say what I think here without being unnecessarily hurtful to those who so selflessly donate their time and effort.

    I assume the email is referring to Board Member Turnbull. During the campaign I was pretty hard on Ms. Turnbull’s email endorsing Carl Piedmont. Lately, I’ve been referring to a piece of video where the superintendent implies that had Ms. Turnbull read the material he provided she perhaps wouldn’t have repeated the claim that football was cost-free to the taxpayers. To me it was pretty compelling TV that in 13 seconds managed capture my concerns with football: that there’s an attempt by some board members to quickly approve a football program without adequate review of the costs or other consequences to the district.

    I now think my drawing attention to the clip was unnecessarily hurtful to Ms. Turnbull. For all I know she was given the document right before the meeting in a package with many others. My experience is that these packages rarely come with the important parts highlighted. I assume she has a busy life beyond school board, with a job and kids. I respect Ms. Turnbull for honestly admitting she didn’t get to the reading and for not continuing when the superintendent pointed out her mistake. I know from experience that Ms. Turnbull is among the most prepared of the board members, often bringing to the table concerns that it is obvious she has thought through deeply before the meeting. The clip erroneously gives the impression that this is not the case.

    With all that as prologue, I offer an apology in the next comment.

  5. Dear Board Member Turnbull and the Oyster River Community:

    In trying to make my point that football is not free to the taxpayers and that the board should take its time making the decision, I emphasized a particular video clip of the March 20th board meeting. I now think the use of this clip was unnecessarily hurtful to Ms. Turnbull.

    In the clip, Ms. Turnbull admits to not having read a particular document. Thus, this clip may give the false impression that Ms. Turnbull is generally unprepared for meetings. Nothing could be farther from the truth. While I may disagree with Ms. Turnbull sometimes, in my experience she is always among the best prepared of members. I apologize to Ms. Turnbull and the entire community for implying otherwise.

    Ms. Turnbull deserves our respect and gratitude for the time and effort she so selflessly gives us. I thank her for her service.

    I have removed all links to the clip in question from and I have rewritten the text to remove any references to Ms. Turnbull and the document in question. I will endeavor to be less hurtful in the future, especially to serving board members.

    Please feel free to let me know if there is anything else I can do to make this right. You may email me at

    Again, I am sorry.

    Very truly yours,

    Dean Rubine

  6. Hi Dean,

    I accept your apology and appreciate the kind words about my work as a SB member.

    For the record, I did not receive or see the document in question until the start of the SB meeting when Dr. Morse handed me my SB folder. I did not have time to read the document and was unable to do so until after the SB meeting. To be clear, I had no knowledge of the document's existence until that moment when I took it out of the SB folder and I was surprised to see it.

    Thank you,


    1. Thank you for so quickly and graciously accepting my apology, Megan. Thanks for the details on the document, too.

      - Dean

    2. Dean and Megan ... you impress me and make me proud of your ability to listen, learn and still maintain respect for one another. Thank you both for being mature, modeling humility and showing us all the importance of displaying these rarely utilized gifts. Brenda Worden

  7. EVERYONE SHOULD READ THE ORYA CONTRACT (link at the top of Dean's post).

    It is unfortunate that the document was made available to board members so late. The contract is dated March 13, so I do not see why the entire board did not read it right away. I wish Dr. Morse had sent it out to the entire board when he received it, but I don't even know when he received it. Just because it is dated March 13 doesn't mean it was mailed or emailed on that date. I also think the contract should have been projected as a slide so that everyone at the meeting could see it.

    To be fair to Megan, it wasn't clear to me that ANYONE on the board had read the contract; I couldn't tell from the meeting when I watched it on DCAT. Also, it was referred to as a "memorandum of understanding" throughout the meeting, but the document itself says "contract" right at the top. (I emailed Wendy, and she said they are the same thing here; there is no other document sent from ORYA to the board or Dr. Morse.)

    Having said that, it seems very irresponsible for anyone on the board to so enthusiastically recommend that the district commit itself IMMEDIATELY (i.e., at that very meeting) without reading the very short 2-page contract. Tom Newkirk said we should not to rush into anything; Ann Lane said that the board should agree to the ORYA proposal immediately or else it would be "perceived as stalling" by the ORYA football enthusiasts. Perhaps so. But voting to obligate the entire district to a contract without reading it? This is gross negligence, plain and simple. Hats off to the members of the board who held their horses, and hats off to Dr. Morse for cautioning the board to not rush in. I thought he was very restrained and measured in his advice.