District must provide fair salary, increase benefits for SHS athletic trainer position

April 15, 2021 — by Andy Chen, Shama Gupta and Howard Shu
Photo by Liz Alves

In spite of Saratoga’s reputation as a rich school, The district pays SHS’s athletic trainer $20,000-30,000 less per year compared to other Bay Area schools. 

 

After 12 years of working in two positions — the school’s athletic trainer and a health/driver’s education teacher — Liz Alves decided to step down from being the athletic trainer last June. As of late March, the athletic trainer job remained unfilled even as the football season is moving forward.

Alves said she primarily stepped down because of low wages and negligible benefits. For the past few years, she advocated the district that she was being underpaid and cited various reasons that the athletic trainer role should become a full-time job rather than an independent contractor position — her departure reveals the necessity of such demands.

When Alves began working at the school in 2008, she was the seventh athletic trainer to fill the position in the span of three years. Since then, Alves has worked as an hourly contractor in her trainer role instead of a salaried employee. The district also capped the athletic trainer position to work 1,100 hours in a school year, effectively capping her salary. 

In a letter Alves wrote to the district last year to advocate for a full-time athletic trainer position, she explained that in order to stay under 1,100 hours, she didn’t log the hours she spent at home doing background work such as documentation, writing and maintaining the concussion policy manual and emergency action plans and communicating with parents, athletes, coaches and other medical providers. 

Essentially, Alves was performing valuable work for the school for free.

According to athletic director and head football coach Tim Lugo, Alves’ role as an athletic trainer was “the one irreplaceable part of our staff” and was integral in keeping the sports program running. While her primary role was to manage athletes’ injuries and rehab, Alves also worked behind-the-scenes on bigger issues, such as referring students to outside physical therapists and having private conversations with students suffering from eating disorders. 

“At the football banquet for years, we've always joked that I can leave tomorrow and this program is going to run fine, but the fact that she's leaving — we're going to fall apart,” Lugo said.

In fact, although Alves stepped down from her role as athletic trainer earlier this year in order to take care of her two children at home — one of which was recently diagnosed with autism — she continues to perform her previous duties three days a week because the athletic department wouldn’t be able to run otherwise, Lugo said. She is not being paid for her work as interim trainer, which is astonishing considering the importance of her position.

Even more appalling is the school’s current offered salary for an athletic trainer: Prior to stepping down, Alves made only $33,000 a year — which she called “not a livable income in the Bay Area” — despite working at SHS for over a decade and possessing a master’s degree in Kinesiology with a focus in athletic training.

Compare that to what neighboring schools and even schools in the same district pay, and it’s clear that the district needs to raise its offered salary for athletic trainers at SHS. For reference, Los Gatos High School’s newly hired athletic trainer Justin Ortiz had a salary of $62,000 last year — almost double that of Alves’ own salary.

And while she said Los Gatos High claims that their athletic trainer earns more since he works more hours with the same hourly wage, to do so would necessitate working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks of the year in order to match the salary on Los Gatos’ job advertisement. Since there are mandatory off weeks for sports, it is pretty much impossible that he is working that many hours, unless they are counting paid vacation and sick days as part of his salary. 

“You can probably imagine how I felt when I found out that the [Los Gatos High] athletic trainer made nearly twice as much as me in his first year when I had been working here 12 years,” Alves said. “He doesn't do twice as much work, so why is he paid twice as much?”

The argument that the district provided to her was that Los Gatos High had more athletes, but Alves believes this actually makes Ortiz’s job easier. In the fall of 2019, Los Gatos had over 100 players on its JV football team, but since most of those athletes rarely played, they never got injured.

On the other hand, Saratoga High only had 13 players on its JV football team, which meant that Alves had to work extra hard to make sure every athlete was game-ready by Friday. If the players weren't ready to play, they had to forfeit, Alves said. 

A contributing reason for Ortiz’s higher salary is that the Los Gatos High sports boosters organization pitched in money to help make the position there more enticing. When Alves had asked the Saratoga High Sports Boosters to do the same, they said they couldn’t come up with the money. 

However, considering that Alves served as an interim athletic trainer for half a semester while waiting to be replaced, reflecting a lack of interest in the role due to its low wages and minimal benefits, SHS Sports Boosters should prioritize the salary of athletic trainers for the safety of Falcon athletes.

According to Alves, the district also claimed that making the athletic trainer a full-time position would set a bad precedent and raise liability issues since the school would be responsible for future trainers’ potentially dangerous decisions. Because of the current absence of a dedicated athletic trainer, however, the school is arguably more liable for any injuries that may occur in ongoing Season 2 and 3 sports, as they made the decision to continue these sports despite lacking a full-time trainer.

Thus, the district has little excuse for not making the athletic trainer role a full-time position — including benefits. As an independent contractor for the district, Alves had to manage her taxes and insurance herself, but the Los Gatos athletic trainer got taxes deducted from his paycheck the way a standard employee would and was provided health insurance by the clinic.

Aside from disrespecting Alves and future athletic trainers, the district’s decision to discount an official athletic trainer position may harm the school in the long term. Lugo said that compared to districts like the Fremont Union High School District, which decided to create a classified athletic trainer position with benefits three years ago, Saratoga High will have a harder time hiring a highly qualified trainer.

As it stands, the district has been lucky to have Alves for so many years, and while she has expressed interest in returning as an athletic trainer, she has no plans to do so until the district finally gives the position the respect, wages and benefits it deserves.

 

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make a gofundme page for mrs. alves

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