During its regularly-scheduled meeting on Tuesday, the Wharton ISD School Board considered the continuation of the longstanding facility use agreement with the Wharton Babe Ruth League.
The discussion took place beyond the public eye within a nearly five-hour-long executive session, following the reading of public submitted comments.
The monetary dilemma
On Jan. 31, Wharton Babe Ruth President Grady Smith took to social media for community support and to bring public awareness to what he said has been, “A constant battle with WISD.”
The main topic of concern is the organization’s fundraising through the sale of advertisement spots on the outfield fences.
“Our non-profit league only charges $90 per kid,” Smith explained. “We are able to keep it affordable to players by selling advertisement spots on the field fence.
“We are being told that we will not be allowed to do so in the future.”
WISD Superintendent Micheal O’Guin Sr. said he could not go into details, but it was brought to the district’s attention that the near 60-year-long agreement, “Might not be legal.”
“It’s a handshake agreement that does not coincide with the district’s standard facilities use agreement.” O’Guin told The County Gin. “It is not legal to use school district property to make revenue.
“We can’t have one organization dictate the terms of an agreement. We need to have an agreement that is fair and equitable.”
While he decided to make his frustration public this year, Smith said this has been an ongoing issue with the WISD School Board.
“I have been president of Wharton Babe Ruth for seven years now, and every year we face the same issue,” he told The Gin. “We have always poured funding back into the fields and donated thousands of dollars to the high school’s baseball program.
“I can’t say the decision has anything to do with our organization’s contributions because we have supported the youth and [WISD] for 60 years.
“I just know I’m exhausted from going back and forth.”
Smith said the league reached an agreement with the district’s previous administration that would require an annual fee to be paid to WISD, but would allow the organization to keep advertisement on the fences.
“We had no issue paying a rental fee for each season. It seemed like offering monetary contributions would solve the issue, but here we are again.”
Waiting on the vote
League supporters waited outside of the closed meeting for the board’s decision, but were asked to leave by WISD Police.
Smith didn’t know what to make of the situation, but said, “I am really struggling to make sense of this entire process.
He continued, “We provide an affordable league for kids to play in. Our league has provided countless kids the opportunity to advance their skills which aided them to becoming collegiate athletes.
“That field has had professional players like Roger Clemons, Quantaa Jackson, Lance Berkman and so many more playing ball on it; that was through Babe Ruth.
“I want nothing more than Wharton to succeed and programs like Babe Ruth contribute to that success.”
After the board returned from executive session to address the agenda item, WISD Board Secretary Christine Stransky read the Texas Constitution Article 3 Section 52 (a).
WISD Board Vice President Steven Roberts voiced his disapproval of the proposed agreement, saying, “it’s not fair.”
“Giving them this one year contract instead of what they deserve,” Roberts said. “[Babe Ruth] has been doing this for 60 years.
“I am very shocked that the superintendent brought us this agreement. One year is not fair; locking them out is not fair; and not hearing their voices is not fair.”
With a 6-to-1 vote, an amended, one-year agreement was approved for presenting to the Wharton Babe Ruth League.
Full details of this agreement have not been released by the district; however, it is reported that the outfield advertisement will have to be removed at the end of the 2021 season.
The league is to pay at least $1,000 to the district and the organization’s financial documents must be submitted.
“The Wharton Babe Ruth Board will meet decide how we will proceed,” Smith said. “We are very disappointed in the one year agreement. I’m not sure how we go forward; I don’t want to have an every year battle with the school.”
O’Guin told The Gin, he will carry out the board’s decision 100%, noting, “I have seven bosses that instruct me on what to do.”
The County Gin will continue to follow this agreement process and will report findings once more information becomes available.
For meeting agendas, minutes and district information, visit Wharton ISD’s website.