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Low pay drives public school referees to areas that pay more

March 14, 2001

Low pay drives public school referees to areas that pay more



By TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

A nearly $8,000 increase is proposed for those who officiate at athletic events at Washington County public schools, a move that some School Board members say is needed to keep rates competitive with surrounding counties and states.

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An increase of $7,971 included in the board's proposed fiscal 2002 operating budget made the list of 11 new money priorities. The total budget for officials fees would be $85,722 with the increase.

School Board members have said rates for Washington County's sports officials are below those of neighboring school systems and that some officials have not showed up at games because they received offers in higher-paying areas.

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"We charge students an athletic fee, and we want to be able to place umpires and referees at all games," School Board member Roxanne Ober said. "With the proposed increases, we're going to become a little more competitive."

Students pay a $40 athletic fee per sports season.

"All I know is that my son's game was canceled because a ref didn't show," School Board Vice President Bernadette Wagner said at a board meeting.

Eugene Martin, supervisor of physical education and health, said he knows of only one game that was canceled because of a lack of officials. A soccer game was called off last year, he said.

The proposed increases and the names of the eight officials groups used by the Board of Education were obtained only after The Herald-Mail made a request under the Maryland Public Information Act. All eight organizations would receive increases under the proposal.

Martin said the officials have not had a raise in the last four years.

Fred Nastri, president of the Washington County Umpires Association, said local umpires are the lowest paid in the state and that the organization is losing officials to other areas. He said the group is down to about 30 umpires after eight left last year. He said the group hasn't received a raise in five years.

Umpires are being paid $41 a game. Nastri, who has been officiating for 27 years, said umpires can go to Pennsylvania or West Virginia and make $50-$55 a game. He said some Pennsylvania school districts would pay $60 a game next year.

Martin said the county would pay $48 per umpire per game if the proposed increases were to go through. Officials can receive a raise every two years in Washington County.

"That's very, very low after five years of non-pay raises," Nastri said.

Nastri said Washington County pays officials at the end of the season, while other jurisdictions pay up front for each game.

He said the association would schedule baseball and softball games for the private schools before it schedules Washington County games, because the private schools have agreed to pay each official $50 per game.

"They will get the first priority for scheduled games," Nastri said. "The county schools will get what's left over."

Baseball and softball games usually need two umpires, but county schools might have only one for some games, he said.

"We're going to try to give them two umpires for every game," he said.

Nastri said the association asked for the raise because of the increased expenses umpires pay in fees, travel and equipment. A new umpire could pay as much as $400 or $500 after state officials fees and equipment purchases. Umpires may also have to take time off from work, often using vacation or holiday time in order to officiate games.

"There's a lot of dedication that we give, and the compensation is far less than what we receive," Nastri said. "We're not the villains here."

He said officials are well-trained, enjoy officiating and should receive what neighboring school systems pay.

"We get the late payment, we get low pay and we get very little or no respect from fans," he said. "Umpires do this because they love it, but the cost of love is getting more expensive."

Randall Wagner, president of the Washington County Football Officials Association, said the organization asked for an increase to help attract new referees. Varsity football referees would receive a $5 increase a game, bringing the proposed rate to $48 a game. Five referees are needed for varsity football games.

"We're a little bit behind, but it's not a huge problem with us," Wagner said. "Our problem is attracting officials."

Richard Hare, president of the Washington County Wrestling Officials Association, said the group is hoping to receive rates similar to what other officials groups earn. Wrestling officials would receive a $5 increase, making the proposed rate $48 per match.

He said the wrestling association is working cooperatively with the Board of Education.

Ling K. Louie, of the Washington County Volleyball Officials Association, said raises would let officials know they're doing well on their jobs. He said most officials are not in it for the money, but should get paid for what they put into the job, including equipment costs and dedication.

"If we were all in it for the money, I would've left the sport a long time ago," he said.

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