A week ago Wednesday, the idle conversation and the wringing of hands stopped. The Santa Rosa City Schools board approved the hiring of athletic trainers for each of their five high schools and neurocognitive testing for every student-athlete who will play a collision sport beginning this fall. Brain trauma now would be getting the attention it deserves in high school athletics. It was a watershed moment in Empire youth sports.
"I teach a class (in athletic training)," said Monica Ohkubo, head athletic trainer at SRJC. "I told my kids they should come to this school board meeting. Afterwards one of them came up to me and said, 'I now will be able to tell my children that I was there the day when they made the decision.' Myself, it was hard not to tear up. Santa Rosa has made a statement. They now are ahead of the curve. This is a huge milestone."
The milestone had a lot of moving parts to it. The most significant of which was cost. No one contested the value of concussion testing. No one had to be convinced of the worthiness of an athletic trainer on the sidelines. The school board vote to approve, after all, was 7-0. But how would this be funded? In a struggling economy, with the fat already trimmed from school budgets, would it take a financial Houdini performing a sleight-of-hand to make it happen? Would essential school services be eliminated?
Oh, and there was one other thing.
"I told everyone," said Bill Carle, SRCS board president, "the budget was already in place. I wanted this to happen but we would have to find the money."
Carle was loathe to do anymore trimming of the budget. The budget wasn't skin and bones but you could see the skeleton without much effort. People understood and sympathized with Carle's plight, yet his statement made people squirm. Money was always the first stop sign anyone threw up when the subject was introduced.
Into this dilemma enter the most unlikely of saviors, electricity and food.
For three years now the SRCS board has asked its teachers and students to turn off lights when leaving a classroom; air-conditioning, too, on hot days. Turn off computers. Remove personal refrigerators. Don't run an appliance more than necessary.
"These are things you would be doing at home anyway," said Carle, a Santa Rosa litigator.
Three years ago SRCS also began an effort to increase student participation in campus meals, including offering healthier choices. That effort took on added significance a little more than a year ago. As much as $250,000 would have had to be trimmed from the school budget. Athletics was a prime target. That money, however, was realized from increased revenue from on-campus lunch consumption as well as the reduction in electricity usage. Carle expects those savings and revenues to continue.
"I am not heavily concerned at all that we would have to take something from the budget to make this happen," Carle said. "The increase in energy savings as well as the added revenue from school lunches should do it. Personal refrigerators draw a lot of electricity. The cost of this program will be about $80,000. Our annual school budget will be between $115 million and $120 million. So we're talking about less than a tenth of one percent."