PPS Won’t Pay Spring Sports Coaches Any Money for a Season That Had Already Started


Will McBride

Both Allderdice track teams won the City League championships last year. // Will McBride

In response to the economic and educational chaos caused by Covid-19, the Pennsylvania state legislature passed Senate Bill 751 which says, “No employee of any school district who was employed as of March 13, 2020 shall receive more or less compensation than the employee would otherwise have been entitled to receive from the school entity had the pandemic of 2020 not occurred.” Allderdice Boys’ Volleyball coach Mr. O’Brien thought this seemingly clear phrasing was a guarantee that he would be fully paid. “When I first read the law that was passed, I was happy that we would be getting paid because the law is so cut and dry,” he said over email. “I was more concerned with telling the players there wouldn’t be a season.”

However, the Pittsburgh Public School District decided not to pay coaches of spring sports any of their planned compensation. It is unclear why they made this decision; the pay had already been set aside for coaches.

All spring coaches had already done significant work for the season before schools were shut down. Between preseason conditioning, recruiting, planning meet schedules, attending meetings, checking athletes’ eligibility, making sure students complete their physicals, and two weeks of official practice, Allderdice Track and Field coach Ms. Mueller estimates that she put in a minimum of 45-50 hours of work before the season ended. Baseball coach Mr. Galla noted in an email that, “by the time the season starts it’s pretty much smooth sailing, a lot of the hard work goes into it before.” 

Coaching payments, although relatively small, play important roles in teachers’ yearly budgets. PPS doesn’t allow teachers to spread their pay over 12 months, forcing them to make a plan to get through the summer with enough money. Spring coaching pay, which comes in one installment at the end of the season, provides a solution for many coaches. O’Brien, Mueller, and Galla all count on coaching pay to stay afloat. 

Mueller, whose coaching pay is about six percent of her gross income said on a call that she, “will be working one, if not two, jobs this summer, to make sure I don’t run out of money,” in the case of an emergency. For Galla, coaching pay is about eight percent of his yearly salary. On top of that, “This year is especially tough because it was also going to help us pay for the wedding that we have scheduled in the fall, so not having it has really put us in a spot where we are stressing about what other options may be available to us.” 

The Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers has filed a grievance with PPS, which will lead to litigation. O’Brien is confident that the union will win this fight. “The district is dragging its feet and is trying to find some precedence, but that won’t happen,” he said. PPS is certainly not making it easy. Mr. Dugan, who coaches Middle School Girls’ Soccer at South Brook as well as the Allderdice team in the fall, is also the Secretary of the union. “Right now, the school district has said, ‘we don’t know how much this might cost,’ which is, on its face, absolutely absurd, that they claim they do not know how many coaches they have and how much coaches get paid,” he said on a call. Further, Covid-19 complicates proceedings, so the final decision of the grievance may not arrive until the fall. Mueller, who is on the executive board of the union, had no idea the district would be making that decision. “It’s not like there was a compromise or some communication,” with the coaches, she said. “If there had been a conversation, maybe I wouldn’t be so mad.”

Nina Esposito-Visgitis, the President of the PFT, could not answer questions about this issue because a grievance has been filed. “Of course,” she said in an email, “we always support the exemplary work of our members with our students be it in the classroom or on the playing field.” Ron Joseph, the PPS Chief Financial Officer, and Ebony Pugh, the Director of Public Relations and Media Content, did not respond to requests to comment on the decision. 

Dugan reached out to nearby school districts to see what decisions they made. “Every WPIAL school district that I spoke to interpreted the law that a coach was a school employee and they would honor the Senate bill that passed,” he said. The Carlynton, West Allegheny, Peters, Ringgold, Trinity, Hempfield, and North Hills school districts all paid their coaches in full. O’Brien said, “I will play about sixty coaches outside of the city next year during the spring alone, and every single one of those coaches have been paid because their districts respect their coaches and want them to feel like they are appreciated.”

There has been a long history of PPS coaches feeling disrespected by the district. Great coaches are not attracted to coach here. For example, Dugan said, Allderdice’s “very successful boys’ basketball coach [Buddy Valinsky] decided to leave the City League because he wanted to coach in the WPIAL, because, I’m sure, of the supports, the respect of the coaches, and the pay.” O’Brien commented, “The most disappointing part of all of this is that we have a Superintendent that wants to project this idea that athletics are a priority in this district, as a union we even agreed to allow for coaching jobs to go to the most qualified people, not just teachers, and then he turns his back on us and basically tells us we aren’t worth what WPIAL and PIAA coaches are throughout the state. It was just another point of hypocrisy during his administration. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.”

PPS employees in general often feel shortchanged by the district. At the end of the last school year, the district unceremoniously cancelled the Promise-Readiness Corps program, which gave many teachers significant pay raises. Mueller’s pay was cut by over ten percent. “That happened last year, and now they’re not giving me my coaching money that I earned, so it’s really making things challenging, to say the least,” she said. 

The district’s decision is in the midst of a huge economic meltdown, and does nothing to help its employees get through. “Covid-19 is something that has globally affected all of our lives already whether it’s emotionally, physically, socially, or mentally, some more than others,” Galla said. “Why add financial to the negativity by making the choice to take away pay, when the season that was cancelled had already begun and the intent and contractual requirement to pay them were already there?”