It’s not about $ to officials; it’s about having a voice

In baseball terms, the July 12 meeting between Eddie Bonine and Paul LaRosa was a trade-off of fastballs over the plate.

Neither threw a curve, so each side knew what pitch was coming.

Witnessed by a chosen few who have a vested interest in the Louisiana High School Athletic Association directed by Bonine, and the state’s officials’ association presided over by LaRosa, this crucial meeting ended with a tentative agreement that football and volleyball officials will do their jobs while the LHSAA tries to resolve the grievances of the officials.

Although my sports media colleagues are beating this horse as a matter of a puny $5 raise that has the officials fired up and ready to begin a strike, it’s hardly that. But money is one of the talking points.

Sure, the officials are disgruntled that two minimal raises for basketball and volleyball officials were snubbed by the principals in January, then compounded by a second vote (followed by high fives) to deny baseball and softball umpires from receiving travel compensation for games that are  subsequently rained out.

But that is just one of the issues that has officials in seven sanctioned sports seeing red.

I repeat. It’s not just about money.

Officials don’t work their part-time jobs to fatten their coffers. They already have well-paying jobs. Many are professionals. Some officiate college games (Sun Belt, Southland and SWAC conferences, for example). Others are paid by the Jefferson Parish Recreation Department to work Saturday morning playground games.}

LaRosa’s key message to the LHSAA is, “Our officials have constantly been misled and continue to have virtually no voice in all matters relevant to their roles as high school officials.”

Officials know they don’t have a compassionate ear of the principals, particularly public school principals, who have an overwhelming voice in any vote.

Incidentally, public school principals get yearly incremental raises from the state or respective parish. If they have a master’s and 30-plus years, the increase is larger, according to a Jeff area director with whom I spoke.

Minor pay increases for officials is not an issue to non-public school principals, who work on yearly contracts with their boards.

To his credit, Bonine has gotten the LHSOA, through LaRosa, to back off its hard line of handing out contracts for principals to sign with their organization – or have no officials work their games.

That wasn’t an easy task. They were and are serious.

Bonine proved to be a good salesman when he worked out a tentative compromise to keep the officials on his page. But now his sales skills will be tested when he has to pitch the agreement in principle he made with the LHSOA  to the principals.

Principals have tightly controlled budgets with little room for extra expenditures.

This is especially true for the administrators of public schools whose athletic teams do not attract a large enough attendance to offset the costs of hosting a game.

That’s not a problem for Catholic and most private schools, whose teams have the enthusiastic support of students, families, alumni, the ardent prep fans and, yes, the media.

An increase in the price of a ticket might be an answer.  The catch is that if a school has little fan support, it will have even less if the price of a ticket is increased.

Officials do deserve occasional fee increases. Principals have insisted on higher quality standards for the men and women in stripes, proctored testing and bi-annual camps. But the officials receive no financial compensation or other reward for these higher standards.

The LHSOA feels their members are the best trained and most rigorously tested in the U.S. and yet get little respect from LHSAA member principals. They feel they should have a seat at the negotiating table.

As independent contractors, officials say they should have control of the quality of service they provide, the process to manage that quality and the compensation they charge for such services.

But the mandate requiring  principals to sign a contract violates LHSAA bylaws, which Bonine must defend and uphold.

A stand-alone body
Unlike the Louisiana High School Athletic Directors and the Louisiana High School Coaches’ associations, the LHSOA is not a sanctioned body of the LHSAA. But Bonine is inclined to give the officials a seat at the table if due process is followed.

Bonine intends to remedy the problems he inherited as executive director, along with the ongoing separation of schools in state football playoffs, which may expand to several other sports. He and the officials are currently trying to hammer out the final details of the agreement they made in principle.

He seems to be an arbiter capable of fostering harmony among the masses. As he said, “I have big shoulders.”

The officials held their registration meeting on Monday.  This meeting will cost each football official $52 to be paid on-line to the LHSAA, and an additional $20 due to the Greater New Orleans Football Officials Association.

The math tells me that’s far  more than a $5 pay increase.

The good news is that the officials are going back to work. I say, “Amen,” to that.

Can you imagine a strike cancelling the 95th game between Jesuit and Holy Cross? 

Not even Katrina could interrupt that traditional clash.

Ron Brocato can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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