Baldwin school board eliminates athletic director position
By: Chris Harlan
Thursday, June 14, 2018 | 12:48 AM
The Baldwin-Whitehall school board voted Wednesday night to eliminate the athletic director position despite passionate pleas from more than a dozen residents, current students and alumni.
Citing budget constraints, the board voted 5-3 to eliminate the position and furlough current athletic director Vince Sortino, a 28-year employee of the district. Sortino’s duties will be shared by other employees, said superintendent Randal Lutz, who didn’t disclose specifics.
Sortino was among those in attendance who insisted that a high school Baldwin’s size should have a full-time AD.
“I’m not going to be here (as an employee) that much longer, maybe only 15 more minutes, who knows?” Sortino said before the vote. “But the position itself is going to impact not only the current kids, but generations to follow. You can’t make a decision two, three, four years down the road that, ‘Yeah, we made a mistake,’ and have another board come in and clean it up. … It’s too big of a position.”
Lutz noted that Sortino’s $125,000 salary was among the highest in Allegheny County for an athletic director. Sortino, who started as a special education teacher, has worked as athletic director for 12 years.
Baldwin is the 11th largest high school in the WPIAL, according to PIAA enrollment figures. Counting both middle and high school sports, Baldwin fields more than 70 teams. The high school has 26 varsity sports.
“There are other districts that are big districts that are doing that same job for $65,000,” Lutz said. “Bethel Park: $65,000. They’re just as big as we are. There are others that are paying $65,000, $70,000. We’re really paying a premium for that position. And can we afford it?”
Bethel Park’s athletic director, Dan Sloan, is finishing his second year.
Baldwin-Whitehall board members David Solenday, Anthony Dicesaro, Karen Brown, Louis Rainaldi Jr. and Robert Achtzehn voted to eliminate the AD position and furlough Sortino. Gerald Pantone, Janice Tarson and Louise Wolf voted against the proposal.
“Take Vince out of it, it’s not about him,” Lutz said. “Can you pay a premium for that (position)? We’re paying almost the highest rate in Allegheny County for that job. It’s not that that job’s not important. But if we look at it differently and think about how to staff differently, can we free up some dollars to do something else?”
WPIAL administrators Tim O’Malley and Jack Fullen, along with athletic directors from nearly a dozen WPIAL schools attended the meeting in support of Sortino. Among those who spoke during the public comments session were members of Baldwin’s softball team that Sortino coached to the state quarterfinals this season.
Kathy Opferman, a former boosters club administrator, insisted that the budget cuts should come elsewhere.
“You didn’t put yourself in this (financial) position, the last board did, and that’s unfortunate for you,” Opferman said. “But we are a big, big school. (North Allegheny) would not get rid of their athletic director. Pine-Richland would not. Canon-Mac would not. If I had a child in the school district right now and you did this, I would move.”
Longtime cross country and assistant track coach Rich Wright offered to return his salary if the district was so financially troubled.
“It would be a travesty not to have an athletic director,” Wright said. “I don’t know where the $200,000 would come from … but if you need my $3,500 back, you may have it and I will work for free.”
Lutz estimated Sortino’s salary and benefits at $200,000.
Bob Johnson, a 1992 graduate and star javelin thrower at Baldwin, drove more than 23 hours from Colorado to address the school board. Johnson said he earned a sports management degree at Texas after high school with ideas of becoming an AD.
“Every athlete in this school knows who the athletic director is,” Johnson said. “Ask a track guy, ‘Who’s the basketball coach?’ He probably doesn’t know. … They all know Mr. Sortino.”
Lutz agreed that athletics oversight shouldn’t become a neglected item added to an administrator’s responsibilities.
“I don’t disagree that there needs to be somebody at a high school level, especially of 1,400 kids, that has primary attention on athletics,” Lutz said. “Does it mean sole attention? I don’t know.”
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.