Columns » Bob McCord

Football comes first

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If you read last week’s Arkansas Business, you found out what Arkansans care the most about — Razorback football.

The highest paid employee of the entire state is Houston Nutt, head football coach of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. He has a state salary of $329,644 and other compensations of $710,000, making a yearly income of $1,039,644. Next to him, of course, are the UA basketball coach, who gets $752,343 a year, and the football defensive coordinators who receives $300,000. Eleven other coaches at Fayetteville also receive between $285,000 and $150,000.

Now I’ve never heard a convincing speech that says that athletics are the most wonderful and profitable things that can improve our state. I believe there are thousands of Arkansans who, like me, are sad when we read or hear:

• More than $1 million this year was spent to modernize and improve the grass field of the War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. The Razorbacks only play two games in the stadium every year, and if it were left to Athletic Director Frank Broyles (salary $286,280) there would be no Razorback games in Little Rock. Among other expenses, the stadium’s scoreboard has been extended 20 feet on both ends, and a video screen 22 feet high and 50 feet long has been installed.

• Last year the youngsters in 274 of the schools in Arkansas failed to meet the state’s minimum performance levels.

• 194 of the state’s 245 school districts have said they had shortages of special education teachers in math and science. For example, North Little Rock is searching for six more teachers. Why? Even though their pay has recently been increased, we still don’t pay teachers enough. Many Arkansas students finishing their college study of teaching quickly go to other states because many of them pay more than Arkansas. Furthermore, Richard Ingersoll, an education professor at the University of Pennsylvania, made a study that shows that after five years of teaching, many young teachers everywhere are leaving the profession.

• The old stadium in Fayetteville was recently rebuilt to become the Donald W. Reynolds Razorback stadium. When I was a student up there in the late 1940s, we thought the stadium was pretty good. Also, the Razorbacks then were winning some great games up there. The rebuilding cost $110 million. Its new video screen is 31 feet high and 107 feet long. Today if you want to sit in one of the new Sky Boxes, you pay $75,000 and then pay $35 per ticket for every person who sits there at every game .For just plain stadium seats, you have to pay $200 a year, plus $35 for each game.

• The national SAT test is the most valued for high school graduates to see what they have learned. And it’s true that Arkansans who took the SAT this year scored well. But only 5 percent of the Arkansas graduates took the test.

• Last year an average of 65 percent of college football players throughout the nation graduated from their college. Last year 55 percent of the University of Arkansas players graduated, the most of any other year.

• People who live in very small towns fight our efficient Education Commissioner Ken James, who wants to close unapproved schools and have their students ride buses to the closest town that has certified schools. Courts have upheld him, but Asa Hutchinson says he wouldn’t allow such a thing it if he were elected governor. Yet, in July the U.S. Department of Education warned Arkansas that more than half of the state’s 450,000 public school students are missing fundamental studies.

The good news I’ve read lately is that the legislature has put more money into education — not just building buildings but raising salaries of teachers and starting preschools for 3- and 4-year-old kids from poor families, an idea first suggested by the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.

I guess the worst news I have recently read is that many high schools have now decided to teach kids how to wrestle and hold tournaments, an idea suggested by the Arkansas Wrestling Association..


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