The Philadelphia School district is looking at a $300 million budget shortfall. That has meant drastic measures to save money, including consolidating and closing schools.
But it won’t be enough to get the school district out of the red.
High school sports could be the next thing that gets cut as part of the belt tightening.
Losing that tradition doesn’t sit well with many students, parents and educators and one of them has an idea on how to save Philly high school athletics -- get the pro sports teams to kick in some cash.
“Our (professional) teams that obviously have such incredible fandom within the city… can really step up and do something for the kids who are their fans,” said Science Leadership Academy principal Chris Lehmann.
Disturbed by the possibility that his students (around one-third of nationally-recognized SLA’s 490 students participate in athletics) and students as a whole could be without sports next season, Lehmann turned to the Internet to drum up support for a radical idea to raise the $7.1 million needed to keep high school sports in the city.
“Challenging times require out-of-the-box solutions,” Lehmann told NBC10.com. “Philadelphia is a leader in so many ways nationwide and this could be another way that they do so.”
He put together a Change.org petition calling on the city’s four major sports franchises -- the Eagles, Flyers, Phillies and Sixers -- to join together to fund the city’s high school athletics.
“The kids of Philadelphia are some of your biggest fans. They wear your shirts and hats. They go to your games. They cheer for you. They celebrate with you when you win, and they agonize with you when you lose. And now, the kids need your help,” states the petition.
In about a week, the online petition has been signed around 1,200 times but Lehmann is hoping to get 10,000 signatures.
“I would love to really demonstrate to the owners of our teams how seriously the students, the parents, and the citizens of Philadelphia, and of the larger community, care about Philadelphia athletics and want to see their teams that they root so passionately for help out that next generation of athletes and that next generation of fans,” Lehmann said.
Lehmann -- a former girls’ basketball coach earlier in his education career who currently coaches Ultimate Frisbee at SLA -- notes how important athletics are in the lives of his own students.
“They do not want to see the loss of their school teams, they take incredible pride in wearing SLA’s colors and representing SLA in athletic competitions.”
Lehmann estimates that the $7.1 million would be less than one percent of the money earned just last year by Philly’s sports teams.
“Our sports teams could come in and say -- ‘this piece of the puzzle we want to save, this piece of the puzzle is too important to lose.’ And, I think that is a perfect opportunity for the community to support our schools.”
NBC10.com reached out to the sports teams and received a response from the Flyers.
Comcast-Spectacor spokesman Ike Richman said that the Flyers are saving official comment until they can review the proposal. Richman did note that Flyers Chairman Ed Snider, through the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation has already contributed $6.5 million to save city ice rinks.
It’s still possible that the school district will find the funds to keep kids playing on city courts, fields, diamonds and pools.
“I do think that it’s a very, very real probability that without outside help we will not have sports in Philadelphia in high schools next year,” Lehmann said.
He is hopeful it doesn’t come to that.
“I think we have an obligation to think about how we can solve some of these problems.”