School board discusses increasing athletic funding

In a three-hour special school board budget meeting that featured talk of closing a high school, cutting a dozen teacher positions, and moving three grades of Youngsville students from one building to another, the largest single item of discussion focused on athletics.

Among the potential adds listed for the board’s consideration was an item that would add $262,090 to the expenditures and “fully fund athletics.”

The line item for 2018-2019 was $781,995, according to Superintendent Amy Stewart.

“When Gov. (Tom) Corbett’s drastic cuts came through and (boosters) were asked to help out in that emergency situation… it wasn’t a life-time thing,” board member Jeff Labesky said. “They’ve done their share. They filled the gap.”

“The coaches said, ‘We’re tired of car washes and chicken dinners,'” board member Paul Mangione said. “There’s a lot of businesses that have said, ‘We’re done giving you money.'”

For the 2018-2019 school year, the district received $117,000 from boosters and about $150,000 in “in-kind services” like volunteering to coach, run clocks, take tickets, and other functions that could be paid.

Some items are most appropriately purchased by the district.

Board President Donna Zariczny said things like helmets and other safety equipment should be the district’s responsibility.

The district’s $50 ‘pay-to-participate’ fee is a concern.

The district takes in about $60,000 to $70,000 a year in dollars paid by students to be part of a season’s programs, according to Coordinator of District-Wide Athletics Rick Gignac.

Those funds do not go back to the school’s athletics programs. “The $70,000 is not off-setting athletics,” Stewart said.

Instead, they go to the school’s general fund, at three of the schools. “There is an additional surcharge in Warren — $35 per player directly to the athletic fund,” Gignac said.

Board members asked to see three different possibilities for next week’s budget discussions.

The first would be funding athletics at the same level as this year.

The second would be increasing that number by $262,090.

The third is adding the $262,090 and removing the pay-to-participate fees and asking the booster groups to cover that amount — through monetary contributions or by saving the district dollars that it would otherwise have to spend on athletics.

Board member Arthur Stewart suggested that third option “has the potential for the boosters doing very direct good in their communities.”

“If we fully fund it, my worry is that we wouldn’t get enough votes to fund the $340,000,” he said.

The proposal would reduce the burden on the boosters, while still counting on their support.

“If you fully fund at the million dollars, Sheffield is $175,000,” he said as an example. “Instead of drawing $175,000, Sheffield puts up enough volunteers… to leave $25,000 that can be used to off-set” pay-to-participate.”

The boosters might be asked to put up the pay-to-participate dollars up front and any in-kind contributions would be reimbursed after the season.

Boosters cannot provide dollars directly for the pay-to-participate fee for students who may not be able to afford it for fear of violating NCAA regulations, according to Director of Business Services Jim Grosch.

The board expressed its thanks to boosters for volunteerism and hopes that they would be motivated to continue saving the district money in those ways.

“I don’t want to disincentivize the booster participation,” Arthur Stewart said.