Our View: Ensuring fairness

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The Steamboat Springs School Board is right to review its two-tiered policy regarding extracurricular activities.

We think the policy has served the district well for the past decade, allowing for the proliferation of activities that few other schools offer. Steamboat Springs High School boasts 28 extracurricular programs that are sanctioned by the Colorado High School Activities Association. Only Cherry Creek High School, which has 3,500 students compared with Steamboat's 630, has more.

But as the number of sports and activities has grown, so have costs. We think the time is right to reconsider current policies in an effort to develop the most equitable means of meeting those costs.

Current policy was established in 1995 when a group of parents wanted to add a girls tennis program at the high school. The School Board was fearful of adding programs that would add to the district's already tight budget. What the board developed instead was a policy that would allow for "Tier II" activities.

Under the policy, parents and students raise private funds to pay for specific activities and contract with the school district to oversee the program. Since the policy was implemented, 13 Tier II activities have been added to complement the 15 Tier I programs.

Examples of Tier I programs include football, volleyball, basketball, wrestling, band and track. Examples of Tier II programs include lacrosse, skiing, hockey and baseball.

For spectators of these activities, there is no noticeable difference between Tier I and Tier II -- everybody on the field or court is a Sailor representing Steamboat Springs High School. The difference is that a student pays $75 to play basketball but more than $200 to play hockey. The Tier I football program travels in a school bus; lacrosse players must arrange transportation to out-of-town games with their parents.

With time, those costs have raised issues of fairness with parents and students. The "Nuts and Bolts Committee" -- which is composed of staff, parents and students at the high school -- raised the issue and has forwarded questions about the Tier II policy to the School Board for review.

Here are some suggestions for the board to consider:

n Eliminate the requirement that each Tier II sport contribute $750 toward the salary of the athletics director and staff. That total Tier II contribution amounts to about $10,000, something the district can and should absorb.

n Ensure that all activities, Tier I and Tier II, have access to the same level of transportation, insurance and coaching.

n Implement a probationary period for each Tier II activity at the end of which the activity could be considered for elevation to Tier I status based on participation levels, support and educational value.

n Similarly, consider periodic reviews of Tier I activities to determine whether the activity should remain at that status, move to Tier II or be discontinued.

n Finally, make sure that all activities at the high school remain available to all students, regardless of cost.

Statistics show that students who are involved in extracurricular activities are less likely to drop out, less likely to engage in risky behavior and more likely to have better grades than students who are not involved in such activities. In that respect, the Tier II activities policy has been a resounding success in Steamboat Springs -- 76 percent of the high school's students are involved in at least one activity.

But after 10 years, many Tier II activities have developed into strong programs with broad participation and support. Given that dynamic, it is right for the School Board to review the policy to ensure fairness in how all school activities are funded.

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