John Smith sticking around in Great Falls

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Veteran Red Devils coach slated to return

By The Staff

Great Falls High School basketball coach and athletics director John Smith has never really wanted to leave the Red Devils and it doesn’t appear he will have to.

Smith met with Chester County School Superintendent Larry Heath on Friday and said he was left with the impression that Heath wanted him to return to the Chester County Class A school.

“He asked if I was interested in returning as coach, teacher and AD, the same positions I hold now, and I told him I was,” Smith said.

There was some speculation over whether or not Smith would be retained when several working retirees were let go in February as the district struggled to cope with budget cuts coming down from the state level. Smith is a working retiree.

In school board budget workshops held after the move to let some working retirees go, though, it seemed that Smith’s job status was never in doubt.

In one meeting earlier this month, board members said there was not a plan in place to release any more working retirees, though each such worker would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

Board Chairman Dr. Richard Hughes requested information on each of the 12 remaining working retirees, in terms of their duties, effectiveness and number of students they teach. At the same meeting, there was some discussion of what coaches are being paid. Hughes said no coach’s job was in danger, though he did want some assurances that coaches and athletics directors were teaching more than one class a day.

“We have to be sure we’re being cost-effective,” Hughes said.

Smith recently completed his 40th year at Great Falls High School. During his tenure, the boys basketball team has had only one losing season. Smith has a state record 816 victories, has guided his team to region titles in 15 of the last 16 years, has taken his team to the Upper State finals 19 times, to the state final 16 times and has six state championships. Smith said he loves his job and the area and has no desire to leave.

“I am not the least bit unhappy,” Smith said. “Not in any way.”

Likewise, Smith said his employers seem satisfied in his performance.

“I’ve not had anyone express unhappiness with my performance,” Smith said.

The level of compensation Smith and other working retirees receive is somewhat out of the hands of local school boards right now.

The state is considering a flexibility bill that would allow school districts to negotiate with individual working retirees. How much school districts have to cut is also somewhat tied to the $700 million in federal stimulus funds that Gov. Mark Sanford has indicated he will refuse.

Heath was out of town Monday and Tuesday and not available for comment.