Change in pay structure catches many East Lyme assistants off guard

East Lyme — There's nothing else quite like learning that what you do just doesn't matter, a lesson several varsity assistant coaches at East Lyme High School discovered recently.

The new teachers' contract strips assistant coaches in seven sports of $975 from their 2018-19 stipend. Meanwhile, assistant coaches in nine other sports will be "awarded" a nominal $76 increase (barely passes the laugh test) all in the name of saving a few dollars from a town and school system that went destitute when the rest of us weren't looking.

And then there are assistant football coaches whose stipends will feature a five percent increase, while administrators are getting a 1.75 percent raise.

Confused yet?

Here are the particulars:

Sports in the People's Republic of East Lyme are divided among three categories.

Category A: baseball, basketball, football, soccer, softball, swimming and outdoor track. The assistant coaches' maximum stipend in the previous contract was $5,657 for their season.

Category B: crew, cross country, field hockey, golf, indoor track, lacrosse, tennis, volleyball and wrestling. The assistant coaches' maximum stipend in the previous contract was $4,606.

Category C: Fencing, whose maximum stipend was $4,552.

The new contract moves all coaches in all categories to a stipend of $4,682.

Several assistant coaches reached out and said this came as a surprise.

"Why didn't we ever vote on it?" one coach said.

I asked superintendent Jeff Newton for an explanation.

"Through a collaborative negotiation process with the teachers union representatives we revamped the athletic stipends removing the categories that were previously in place which had some sports receiving higher stipend amounts than other sports," Newton wrote in an e-mail. "This was a clear inequity and not fair to some coaches who were making less money than others just because their sport was previously in a lower category.

"Many coaches are seeing an increase in their stipend (as their sport is now receiving more money and is recognized as being equal to all other sports). Some assistant coaches (who were being paid at the top level) will unfortunately see a decrease which will be phased in over the next three years (not one lump sum reduction).

"The football assistant coaches should have dropped as well for some, but overall remains a bit higher than other sports as they start their season (practices) earlier than the other fall sports."

Hard to know where to begin.

First, I'm not sure why there were "categories" in the first place. Why would anyone in East Lyme think two of the school's flagship sports — lacrosse and volleyball — merited less financial respect? And then the solution is to insult everyone by feigning this new "equality" with $975 demotions and $76 increases?

Someone ought to cue Aretha for a few choruses of "Respect." Seems in short supply here.

East Lyme may have the most successful overall sports program in the region, given its successes in virtually every sport. Coaching is certainly among the reasons. Except that every assistant coach in the school just got told that what they do is of little significance.

Except for football, apparently, whose assistants gets a five-percent increase because conditioning starts a week earlier than practices for other sports.

This is absurd.

All of it.

I'm not sure what recourse the coaches have, other than to ask for better communication and representation. And perhaps a math wizard who can calculate number of hours worked for the pittance they make. It's less than minimum wage.

Now it's even less than that.

Imagine, too, if you coached a sport at the middle school (where budget cuts eliminated sports) and at the high school. Hope you didn't have that money spent. Or needed it to pay anything as silly as a mortgage.

I always enjoy my time at East Lyme sporting events. Good people, always willing to engage. At least I respect their jobs well done. But then, all I have to offer here are words. They don't pay the rent nearly as well as an extra $975.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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