A school board discussion last month which raised concerns about gender disparity among coaching appointments in the Saugerties Central School District is only part of the story, said Superintendent Seth Turner.
The subject of a gender imbalance was raised by Trustee Krista Barringer, who noted that there were only three women among the 37 coaching appointments for the 2016-17 school year — varsity cheerleading, and both modified and junior varsity volleyball. Two coaching positions were still vacant following the annual reorganizational meeting; one a girls team, the other a boys.
Barringer, who abstained from voting on the appointments in protest, asked that school officials provide the board with information on the number of applicants for coaching positions, as well as suggesting the possibility of coaching clinics designed to make the positions more appealing to prospective women coaches.
The subject was previously raised last October by Trustee Damion Ferraro, who voted in favor of the appointees alongside six other board members at the meeting on Tuesday, July 12. School board Vice President James Mooney was absent from the meeting.
While Turner said in an interview this week that he understood the points being made by Barringer, the process by which coaches are sought in the district doesn’t specify positions being appointed according to gender, regardless of whether the position is coaching a boys or girls team.
“In the contract with the Saugerties Teachers Association, teachers have the first right to positions,” said Turner this week. “So positions are advertised within the union exclusively, and if there are no applicants we open it up to try to find other people to fill the positions. And I would say the majority of positions are filled from within. We’re equal opportunity employers, and we want the best persons for the job, but we also are obligated to work within the constraints of the labor agreements that are in place.”
Turner added that at the same meeting, faculty advisers were approved for extracurricular activities, with their ranks heavily skewed toward women rather than men.
“If you want to look solely at the coaching recommendations, well we also approved a number of other extracurricular activities which exist, and you would sort of see there’s a disparity that exists in those as well going in the other direction,” Turner said. “I’m shooting from the hip, but around 95 percent of other extracurricular activities are filled by female teachers. That’s sort of a counterbalance.”
Turner: Tough to fill slots
Turner said that he didn’t believe there were any other applicants for the bulk of the coaching positions, but that ultimately it was about finding the right person for each job.
“Oftentimes we’re beating the bushes trying to get people to fill those positions,” Turner said. “We want positive role models throughout our district, and that’s what we’re looking for. We want to be careful to get the best people for every position that we fill.”
Turner added that he’d never heard from a parent of a female student-athlete that they were uncomfortable with a male coach. “It has never come up,” he said.
Turner noted that while he understood Barringer’s point of view, focusing on coaching serves to obscure that there are increasingly more opportunities for female educators across the district.
“There’s a shift in that the majority of our school administrators are female at this time,” Turner said. “I don’t want to be painted with this brush of being sexist. I just want the best person for the job. We’re the Saugerties Central School District, not the Saugerties Athletic School District. We don’t function on just that one piece.”
After a relatively fallow period, Turner noted, Saugerties sports are on the rise. There’s a varsity bowling team for the first time, he said, and discussions continue about adding a hockey team to the Sawyers’ list of athletic options.
“Over the past several years, Saugerties has become competitive in a lot of our sports after a drought for many years,” Turner said. “That’s sports for girls and boys. I’m looking at a poster I keep in my office of the Section IX champion girls’ [varsity] basketball team.”
And ultimately what it boils down to is what’s best for the students, said Turner. “We’re in a period of growth, and that’s what’s most important, that the opportunities for our students are there,” he said.
Trustees at last month’s meeting agreed to address the gender disparity going forward, with plans to discuss how best to appeal to both female and male coaching candidates.