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It’s Time To Stop Spending Tens of Millions of Dollars On High School Football Stadiums

Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t stop spending money.

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In this photo made Thursday, April 28, 2016, middle schoolers use the field in Ron Poe Stadium in McKinney, Texas. Officials in this suburb north of Dallas, want to replace this stadium with a 12,000-seat stadium and are hoping voters on May 7 approve a broad bond package that includes $50.3 million for the field. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

It’s no revelation to say that in this state of ours, football is the second most cherished religion we’ve got—right after Christianity and just before complaining about the heat. But the trend of high school football stadiums that cost tens of millions of dollars has got to stop. All high school football stadiums need are bleachers, grass, lights, and a concession stand that sells Frito Pie.

As a part of a $220 million bond package, McKinney ISD is adding an opulent events center and 12,000-seat high school football stadium that will cost a total of $62.8 million. According to the Dallas Morning News, the stadium, set to open in 2017, will cost $50.3 million itself with $12.5 million used from a previous bond package passed in 2000 that will go towards stadium infrastructure: roads, water, sewer, electricity. Manhattan Construction has been hired to build the stadium, and if that name rings a bell, it’s because they were behind Houston’s NRG Stadium, Globe Life Park, and AT&T Stadium—home of the Dallas Cowboys of Arlington. The bond package also includes $62.5 million for upgrades throughout the district, with $51.4 million allocated toward additions and renovations to six of the schools in the district.

There will be $30.5 million spent on technology, including a program that would give all entering freshman a laptop. Three of the schools will see renovations to fine arts facilities, which sounds good, sure, until you consider that it will only bring them up to par. Cockrill Middle School, Evans Middle School, and McKinney Boyd High School’s fine arts programs have been burdened with “overcrowding in the band halls, lack of storage, practice space and congested fine arts hallways.” Meanwhile, the sanctuary of gladiator arts will sparkle in McKinney.

Placing athletics over academics and the arts is a tale as old as time. Sports—well, male-dominated athletics, particularly football and basketball—have more eyes and glory involved than pretty much every other high school institution outside of prom, and even then there’s room for debate. But the fact of the matter is that high school football, though we tend to spend exuberant amounts of money on it, doesn’t yield great returns. In 2011, the Dallas Morning News’ sports section conducted an investigation of Dallas-area football teams and their profitability, and only three districts had a net profit. McKinney’s had a net loss of $208,889.35.

Regardless, Texas is still charging ahead with larger-than-life stadiums. Katy ISD is spending $62.5 million on a football stadium after costs have risen from the original price tag of $58 million. According to the Houston Chronicle, three years ago a bond package that included a $69 million stadium was rejected. Then, there’s the all too familiar saga of Allen High School’s $60 million stadium that opened in 2012, then closed in 2014 because it was falling apart. At least an extra $10 million on repairs was paid by the construction company and architectural firm to open back up for graduation a little over a year later.

To be fair, the parking at McKinney’s existing Ron Poe Stadium is absolutely inadequate. It has just 341 dedicated parking spaces, a paltry amount and certainly something that should be fixed. But it isn’t just cause for entering the futile suburban arms race of building the most expensive and grand high school football stadium in the world. It’s money wasted on cosmetic pomp and circumstance that could’ve gone to improving educational resources. Imagine the possibilities and the scholars these schools could attract if this money was used as a financial incentive for teachers. Maybe, in some crazy alternate universe,  high-performing educators could have salaries that rival high school football coaches.  

*Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the district paid for the repairs to Allen High School’s stadium. We regret the error. 

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  • Jed

    end uil tackle football.

    • Leigh Williams

      The liability issues are going to do that, sooner rather than later. The sport’s stupid and violent.

      • ohioanon

        There’s a liability to everything, you could die just sitting there on your fat ass. Are you going to stop driving due to liability? We could only be so lucky if you got killed or horribly maimed in a car wreck.

        • WestTexan70

          Well, ain’t you a sweetie.

        • Asher B. Garber

          Meanwhile, our anonymous friend from Ohio is killing his boredom by declaring to a bunch of strangers that he is a sad, pathetic, boob of a human being who just wants to be regarded as a social genius.

        • безопасность

          Your disagreement seems to indicate you’re a football fan. Your language proves you’re both stupid and violent. In other words, far from refuting that statement, you’ve only served to add more evidence proving it up. Well done, genius.

  • CeciliaRodriguezBush

    SHAME
    School Finance—The Texas Supreme Court handed down a surprising ruling on Friday, voting to uphold the state’s school finance system. This is a pretty big blow to schools throughout the state, who had for years been fighting the legality of a system that reduced the state’s cash flow for education to little more than a trickle. On the flip side, it’s a big win for the state’s Republican political leadership, who argue that more money is not a solution to the state’s school problems, according to the Austin American-Statesman. The decision also will likely keep future education finance-related lawsuits out of court, since the justices decided this sort of thing is best left up to the state legislature. The unanimous decision was hardly a vote of confidence for the current system. The most positive thing the justices said about the finance system was that “it satisfies minimum constitutional requirements,” as Justice Don Willett wrote in the decision, according to the Texas Tribune. But Willett also said “Our Byzantine school funding ‘system’ is undeniably imperfect, with immense room for improvement,” and in her concurring opinion, Justice Eva Guzman wrote: “Shortfalls in both resources and performance persist in innumerable respects, and a perilously large number of students is in danger of falling further behind.” It’s unclear how these shortfalls will be patched, but the court has now handed that responsibility over to the legislature. – See more at: http://www.texasmonthly.com/the-daily-post/state-texas-may-16-2016/#sthash.cWafJVzI.dpuf

    • Leigh Williams

      The lovers in Austin are too busy jumping in our hoo-haws to bother with their legitimate business. As long as we keep electing Republicans, that trend will continue.

  • Bob Kelleher

    The McKinney bond issue passed, on the second try, because the wording at the polls omitted any mention of the stadium on the voting screen. This time, it was described only as school improvements. That blatant misrepresentation should invalidate the approval but, of course, it will not!

    • beauloney

      There was NO SECRET that part of this bond was going to be used to build a stadium. It was referred to as “the stadium bond” even though most of $220 million isn’t even going to the stadium. the McKinney bond issue passed because the voters who wanted it, showed up and voted for it.

  • Scott Richards

    The opening paragraph of this article states, “All high school football stadiums need are bleachers, grass, lights, and a concession stand that sells Frito Pie.” With that premise, your bias is exposed and your subsequent arguments are invalidated. Reasonable discussion requires reasonable minds.

    • troothinus

      Logic is simpler than you’re trying to make it.

      • Scott Richards

        Who are you?

    • jammerjim

      That statement is indisputably true. Though an argument could be made about the concession stand.

      • Scott Richards

        Your comment would have some credibility if you slipped out of your protective cocoon of anonymity. Are you unable or unwilling…?

        • jammerjim

          My identity has no bearing on the validity of my comment. If I were stating something based on my supposed personal experience, it *might*. And we have no idea if your name is real or made up. You created your profile today, and there is nothing to tie the name you created it under to a real person. Indeed, I would say your complaints about anonymity are basically only a smoke screen to hide your inability or unwillingness to engage the substance of the argument.

          Have a nice day!

          • Scott Richards

            We disagree on much. Enjoy your seclusion – you are a Rock, an Island.

          • Comical that you have to resort to name-calling rather than logical, reasoned discourse. Nothing posted by “jammerjim” was incorrect, and you’ve yet to provide any actual substance to your nonexistent argument.

      • H. Drew Blackburn

        You absolutely have to have Frito Pie.

        • jammerjim

          You could play football without it, but I’d agree that if a concession stand exists, it should have Frito pie. It would be un-Texan not to.

    • Let’s be reasonable, then. I can’t think of many other components that would be necessary for hosting/playing a football game for an audience… a loudspeaker for announcements, maybe?

      • Scott Richards

        Reasonable – I like that. If we travel the state, I believe that we will not find a 5A high school playing football in the conditions described in the article (plus or minus the loudspeaker). Nor 4A. Probably not 3A. This would be true in surrounding states as well. So let’s address the issue(s) against a backdrop of present reality.
        To use an analogy, what’s really “required” to put on a high school play or musical? Do we really need an auditorium that seats 600? 800? 1200? Do we really need a orchestra pit and stage with multiple curtains, a 60 foot ceiling, and multiple spotlights? To say nothing of sound systems and mics for each character. But these facilities and accessories exist in most large high schools. Many students benefit from them, but not all.
        I did not play football in high school, so please don’t think that I’m defending the sport. The facility that we’re discussing will be multi-purpose and will benefit many more students that the football players, cheerleaders and marching band. But the critics will not concede this point. Instead, they mock the sport (as in the article) and the people who voted for the stadium.
        Thanks for your open approach. I look forward to understanding your view.

        • I get that the facility can be multi-purpose (e.g. field day, graduation, etc.), but that can be accomplished within a more modest or reasonable scope. The “it’s the norm, everyone else does it” mentality doesn’t respect any kind of limits on what’s considered okay. It’s a game of keeping up with the Joneses… who then aim to keep up with you. And everyone’s playing the game. As an Allen resident, I was embarrassed for Eagle Stadium even *before* it started manifesting structural problems.

          Rather than taking an extreme all-or-nothing view like so many seem to want to do, it might be prudent to ask ourselves what things are important and how we want to allocate resources to facilitate those things *reasonably.* There simply needs to be a measure of moderation at some point.

          • Scott Richards

            THX.
            So, my issue was with the statement, “All high school football stadiums need are bleachers, grass, lights, and a concession stand that sells Frito Pie.” My view was/is that this is hyperbole at best, mocking at worst, and reveals a biased approach to the larger discussion. I stand by this view.

            I grew up in the 70’s. A 16 foot ski boat was the standard size. Anyone with a 17′ was “rich”. Nowadays the family ski boat is 18/19′ and up. My grandfather had a Chrysler New Yorker with leather and power windows – wow!!! Now, it’s hard to get a car without power windows. Etc, etc, etc…… ad nauseam.

            The race goes on. What is reasonable moderation to one person or group is viewed as overly prudent or old fashioned to another. McKinney’s bond has Way More $’s for school building renovations, technology advances and security upgrades than it does for the stadium facility. But critics, mostly pundits and other outsiders, just want to throw rocks at the “football fanatics”. I’m tired of it already.

            Notably, the Allen folks with whom I’m acquainted say that your stadium has had an overall positive impact on the community. I’d really like to know your view and any data points.

          • I get that “times change,” but my point is “What’s the reasonable limit?” There’s a point at which dumping more resources into the cars and boats calls into question one’s ability to make smart financial decisions. Where does it end? Voice-controlled electric windows? 30′ boats?

            I think you may simply be acquainted with like-minded folks who live in Allen. I’ve heard varied opinions on Eagle Stadium, but more have opined that they think the money (or part of it) could have definitely been spent more wisely elsewhere. You may feel differently, and that’s fine, but I’m of the opinion that the jumbo screen for slow-mo replays is grossly out of place in a high school environment.

            But “where our money goes is a direct reflection of where our hearts are,” and it’s certainly nothing new that here in Texas, sports reign supreme—and yes, football is chief among them. Let’s not kid ourselves; this is a football stadium. It’s got uprights installed, not soccer goals or quidditch rings. :v

          • Scott Richards

            Thanks, again.
            The reasonable limit, in my view, is a moving target. And voice-activated car functions became available in 2006 or 07, for better or worse.

            My Allen acquaintances were from work – pure happenstance that we know each other. One had a daughter in the marching band and was a Big Fan of the stadium, mostly because it was used for more than….. football.

            I definitely agree that a jumbotron is over the top. But I’m > 50, and the younger crowd has come to expect such technology.

            Your ending sentence says that you, like others, refuse to consider the other functional aspects of the facility (soccer being in the top). Fine. I’ll not bore you with additional info about the features of the facility.

            Quidditch rings – LOL.

            You may have the last word.

          • I have nothing further to add.

          • Jed

            anybody with a ski boat, of any length, is rich. your “perspective” lacks any.

            data points: $70M spent on a football stadium is $70M spent to give kids dementia.

            what is the right amount of money schools should be spending to give kids dementia?

          • richtxn

            Name ONE Science building that has been built in any Texas public school with the profits that their school football team brings in.

          • David Christie

            Yes, I agree. But who decides what is “reasonable”? I think there are a few things missing from this discussion. First is the economics. Even if the funds were turned into education dollars, teachers wouldn’t see much of a bump in pay or supplies as there are many more teachers than there are coaches. Turning that $62MM into salaries and such would pay each of the 9 coaches a great deal while paying 200 – 300 teachers in the large schools wouldn’t get nearly as far. Plus new stadiums are built with the expectation that the capacity will need to grow during the useful life. Lastly, football typically pays for itself and other groups. Coaches make what they do because the service they provide generally brings in more money than it spends. Teachers don’t bring in any money at all. They are known as a cost center. No slight to teachers, that is just the reality.

            I completely agree that there needs to be reasonableness. If you don’t think these projects are reasonable, what are you doing about it? The school board is making these decisions, do they have your opinion on the matter or are you just being a keyboard warrior? That is the only thing that is going to make this any better. Those of us who believe that things have gotten out of hand need to start showing up and making our voices heard and at least drown out some of the football supporters who have the ear of the school board. Full disclosure, I was in band and choir in HS. I was really annoyed how football got all the benefits even though the band and choir were just as good if not better within our respective competitions. Other groups did great jobs as well. But it is what it is. I chose to pursue a music path so it was either I learned how to live with the annoyance or go play football. Needless to say I didn’t.

    • Paul White

      What else is needed to play football?

      I mean seriously, they’re spending sixty million damn dollars on this.

      I’m not opposed to sports being part of schools (and get damn tired of people complaining that they shouldn’t be; extra-curricular stuff is great for a lot of kids). But at that type of cost? holy crap!

  • beauloney

    “Imagine the possibilities and the scholars these schools could attract if this money was used as a financial incentive for teachers. Maybe, in some crazy alternate universe, high-performing educators could have salaries that rival high school football coaches.” Some more research needs to be done here… bonds CAN NOT be used to pay teachers’ salaries.

    • troothinus

      I think you’re missing the point. The statement is not literally incorrect.

  • Iatemine

    Ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous. This crap is part of the reason our property taxes get so high! When my kids were in High School here in Round Rock, TX their football team had 9 Coaches on the field…9!! That’s 9 salaries! And yes We have one of tyhose multi million dollar Stadiums that are never EVER even half full. And They were a regularly losing team! Back when I was in school My High School had 3 Coaches. and they doubled as Baseball, Track and Basketball Coach as well as taught classes!
    This is School Districts with too many levels of Administration run amuck!

  • C GARBIN

    all the talk about football, yet pretty certain a majority of those yes votes came from parents and family of the band kids. we had 2 high schools make it to state this last year. the turn out for the community show was probably bigger than football games. let’s not let people on the outside tell you it’s all about football.

    • LotusJeff

      This is very true for Allen. There are roughly 1,400 high school students actively involved with extra curricular activities on a Friday night. Most band parents will tell you that Friday night is for the band with a football game as the opening act. It costs me $20 a year for the stadium. I have no problem spending $20 a year for a facility for 1,400 students to learn skills and life lessons.

      • Jed

        hopefully they won’t forget everything they learned when they get CPE.

        NOW how much would you pay?

        • LotusJeff

          CPE????

          • Jed

            sorry, CTE.

  • Meanwhile… public transit… 🙁

    • Jed

      or, for that matter, education.

  • LotusJeff

    Whoever does the fact checking for Texas Monthly articles needs to be reprimanded. So called facts are listed in the article that are not in sync with the information from the links posted. Sad state of journalism where opinion and sensationalism are more important than ethics.

    • WestTexan70

      Name them.

  • Tom Rhyne

    This is such a bizarre article. On one hand, it starts and ends with a conclusion. In the middle, it tries to gloss over the fact that most of the money is spent on other things and doesn’t necessarily support that conclusion.

    This is a confluence of multiple factors: conglomerate high schools of 5000+ kids, affluent neighborhoods, and a school finance system that prevents expenditure on academics. Operating as basically 3-4 high schools in one, they generally go bigger or more. Three auditoriums. A 500+ member band. They pump extra-curriculars.

    Due to the wondrous process of “recapture”, any district revenue beyond a certain amount dedicated towards the school itself is subject to seizure and redistribution by the state to underprivileged and poorer schools. They simply CANNOT add to academics, at least not in their own neighborhood.

    Thus the basic conclusion comes down to “they should just avoid spending money on anything”, which isn’t a priority issue but a willingness issue, which is exactly the point of a public bond vote.

  • John Helmer

    The McKinney ISD spends $206,000,000 in the local economy every year. That money buys a lot of friends, and that’s why most school bonds pass. There are also many invisible hands pulling the levers behind the curtain, including contractors who have political specialists on staff to assist in successful bond engineering. Then there is a public that no longer votes in high numbers (The McKinney bond had only 11,114 total votes out of over 60,000 district households). The Texas Permanent Bond Fund elevates school bonds to AAA credit and guarantees the P&I to investors. What is going to happen when 1,000 Texas ISD’s get their $70mm entitlement stadium? And the MISD paid $10,000,000 for the land for the stadium site in a previous bond, and not a single media source is running the actual stadium cost ($51+12+10=$73 million dollars). These stadiums are entertainment facilities, for a public addiction to Friday night lights and blood-sports. No one is talking about the growing evidence of CTE and life-shortening injury to children from sports concussions. Where is the public voice of wisdom?

    • Jed

      right here. end uil tackle football.

  • clarkkent2

    The voters in Katy ISD (seven 6A high schools now – soon to be nine) voted DOWN a bond a few years back because the proposed second stadium was ‘too extravagant’… it may have exceeded $70 million. So it was reduced to 1% less expensive than this McKinney stadium. KISD’s first ‘modern’ stadium was built in the 1980s and holds perhaps 6,500. Dozens of Texas districts – almost all in the far suburbs of the big metro areas – have been building double-decker stadiums since the 2000s. I wonder if the McKinney Bond included $5-6 million for new band and orchestra instruments as well as facilities decent for a high school. Hmmmm

  • IvorySoap

    When I was in HS in 1985, we had aluminum bleachers. look now! the same!

    https://foursquare.com/v/west-ottawa-athletic-stadium/4d92704614228cfa85a64c7b

    Texas is big, but your are drinking grape KOOL AID

  • Anonymous NTX

    So much for conservatives being conservative.
    These kids better be able to read and write cursive.

  • Scott550

    Leave it to texas to know what best to spend TAXPAYER money on. This is the move of a desperate, lonely population. I’d feel pity, but–you know…texas. What a bunch of MAROONS.