LONGSHOTS: Going to school by cutting the Red Sox payroll
by Dave Long
Iím always amused how many sports fans expect owners to spend, spend, spend to bring home a title ó like itís not real money. And if the brass decided theyíd lose money with a $130 million payroll and cut it by 5 percent, thereíd be a hue and cry all around Red Sox Nation. But when many who are now buying baseballís highest-priced tickets in record numbers are asked to spend from their own pocket for something far more important to a community than a baseball team, itís always assumed more can be done with less.
Take the controversy surrounding proposed cuts to the school budget. Many whoíd say give Roger Clemens whatever it takes to get the third starter the Sox desperately need also say too much is spent on local education. Theyíre content to be the Florida Marlins, selling off all their best players, or in this case anywhere from 38 to 64 teachers depending who you listen to, to save a buck no matter what the long-term consequences.
Now Iím so far from being an expert here, Iím not even going to try and fake it. But it sounds like awfully short-term thinking. But, then again, when the school budget is larger than the Red Sox payroll, itís plausible there could be enough soft areas to find the $5 million in targeted savings. Thatís pretty much the dividing line between Mayor Frank Guinta, who rode to power on a pledge to cut city spending, and superintendent of Manchester schools Michael Ludwell. The mayor says the money can be cut and still get the job done. Ludwell said in a guest column in the UL, ďthese cuts will have a direct and overwhelmingly negative impact on students in the classroom.Ē
Sounds a little like he-said-she-said to me. Who do you believe? The majority of people who showed up at Memorial 10 days ago to hear from the mayor on this matter seemed to agree with Ludwell. Those who voted for the mayor think heís right. Of course, Iím betting his group includes the just-say-no shut-ins who thought investing in the airport and Verizon Wireless Arena were bad ideas too, so some of his support is suspect.
Iím guessing whittling down the school budget is a lot like how I edit this column to 1,100 words. Usually I wrie about 1,400, think itís perfect and donít want to lose one syllable. But, if I send it in that way, the dastardly editors do the hacking and Iíd rather have needles stuck in my eyes than let that happen. So I chop. Eventually, I get there. Most times itís better when less words, but sometimes, like today when it was 2,000 words after round one, whole sections get chopped and you hope enough is left in to get the point across. Iím guessing thatís how Ludwell feels about lopping $5 million from his budget.
That doesnít make it any easier to understand, so letís go to a chopping process much more clear to me. What would happen if Theo Epstein was told to chop 5 percent from the Sox payroll? At around $130 million, it means spending nearly $7 million less. First Alex Gonzales isnít signed for $3 million. Instead prospect Dustin Pedroia is rushed to the majors to play short. Then Julian Tavarez isnít signed for $2 million. So Manny Delcarmen and his nine-plus ERA sticks around all year. Doug Mirabelli stays in San Diego and Josh Bard continues flailing at Tim Wakefieldís knuckleball toward an all-time record for passed balls to get the other $2 million. Another way might be to refuse to take Mike Lowellís $8 million salary, which was ransom to get Josh Beckett out of Florida. Of course that means no Beckett, so Bronson Arroyo stays and Wily Mo Pena is still a Red. In case Joseph McCarthy-loving Ann Coulter stumbles on this column sometime while in the state stumping for the right, I better change that to Wily Mo remains a Cincinnati Red. That means theyíre short a right-handed bat on the bench and .167-hitting Adam Stern plays center while Coco Crispís on the DL
Do these solutions make the Red Sox better than currently constituted? Does it make them championship caliber? Not to me. And thatís the problem faced by the mayor in trying to deliver on his campaign promise to improve the quality of city schools, some of which can be called under-performing under the federal No Child Left Behind law. Do his two missions ó to cut taxes and to improve schools ó seem at odds? Particularly in light of what happens when districts donít make adequately yearly progress after four years on the watch list, which is financially significant?. The bloated Yankee payroll shows having more money than god doesnít mean you always win. But, Allard Bairdís travails in KC equally show, if you donít have it, you donít have a chance. So, whatís the right move?
I canít say if the mayor, who seems to be an earnest fellow trying to deliver on what he said heíd do, is right. But, I will say, even if NCLB is about as well-conceived as the Presidentís exit strategy from Iraq, slashing before you know what you need to do to get into compliance is putting the cart put before the horse. What if a panel determining what needs to be done says more spending is recommended? In baseball, Theo may get the Trio to bust the budget to sign Roger if it could end the onerous one-year curse currently in place. But, being the lip reader I am, no new taxes isnít an option any mayor or alderman wants to go back in their in the next election. But if you cut now, and word comes back it has to be done or even more dire financial consequences lie ahead, thatís what theyíll be doing. So, with potential consequences from compliance to No Child Left Behind looming, not to mention what itíll mean to direct instruction in the classroom, does it make sense to cut first? Seems to me theyíre rushing it.
Especially when the homeowners with tax bills of $4,000 will get less money from the much-discussed rollback than I left for a tip the other night after a great dinner with friends at CR Sparks.
Dave Long can be heard on Sports Night with Dave Long nightly from 6 to 7 p.m. on 610 WGIR-AM
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