Steamboat Springs Steamboat Springs School District Athletic Director Luke DeWolfe told a crowd of more than 50 parents, coaches and student athletes gathered in the George P. Sauer Human Services Center on Monday that Steamboat sports face a tough budget reality next school year.
He said because of the increasing cost of shuttling athletes to compete across the state, the school district now must decide whether to cut athletic programs, find an extra $30,000 to cover a projected transportation deficit, or stop funding Tier 2 sports that include tennis, cheerleading, Alpine and Nordic skiing, lacrosse, hockey, golf, baseball and wrestling.
“Two years ago, we cut eight coaching positions, and last year we cut every ounce of fat we could to avoid this situation,” DeWolfe said after he presented a budget proposal that would cut Tier 2 sport transportation funding and coaches’ salaries out of the school district’s budget. “I just don’t see any other opportunities for cuts.”
Tier 1 sports, which include such sports as football, soccer and basketball, were started before Tier 2 sports in Steamboat and always have been funded by the school district. Tier 2 sports were as recently as the 2007-08 school year all self-funded, and parents had to drive athletes who were participating in them to and from games. To avoid liability issues and increase student safety, the Steamboat school district decided four years ago to provide transportation to Tier 2 athletes. It also changed the funding system so that Tier 2 transportation and some coaches’ salaries were funded through a participation fee paid by all Steamboat student athletes.
But DeWolfe said Monday night that the district no longer can keep a balanced budget and also continue to provide funding for both tiers of sports.
The athletic department budgeted $35,000 this school year for Tier 1 and Tier 2 sports transportation, but it already has passed that figure and is projecting it will cost $66,000 this year to shuttle athletes to their competitions.
DeWolfe said only the addition of $30,000 next school year to cover that deficit would allow the current funding system to continue.
He also was quick to acknowledge that to stop funding Tier 2 sports could have dire consequences.
“If the sports become self-funded, we could see decreased participation and their quality of season could depreciate,” he told the audience. “A great burden will be placed on booster clubs and families because they will have to pay to play these sports.”
Several coaches, parents and athletes spoke during Monday’s budget forum and asked the school district to revisit the separation of Steamboat’s sports into two tiers. They also asked DeWolfe and the Steamboat Springs School Board not to pull back funding for Tier 2 sports because they fear the move would kill some sports off completely.
“It’s a really trying time in terms of our fundraising efforts,” Steamboat Booster Club President Scott Glynn read from a letter on behalf of the fundraising group. “We soldier on and we know your guys’ job isn’t easy, either. … There has to be a way to come up with another solution” other than to not fund Tier 2 sports.
Parent P.J. Wharton recommended that the school district raise participation fees, which currently equal $150 per student, on all athletes instead of cutting funding to only Tier 2 sports.
“One sport is not better than the other,” he said. “Worst case, you should take the deficit and divide it up among all of the student athletes.”
But DeWolfe and other administrators were hesitant to endorse a plan to raise fees on all students. They noted that Steamboat already charges students more than many other Western Slope schools for sports.
“We’ve really tried to avoid doing that,” DeWolfe said.
Also at Monday’s budget forum, several members of the public told school district officials not to consider a budget proposal from Steamboat Springs High School that would eliminate the campus’ SEAL program for at-risk students.
Principal Kevin Taulman presented the budget proposal that only would be enacted if the high school’s budget had to be pared down by 4 percent next school year. He also offered no backup plan for what his campus would do if it had to cut the program.
“I don’t even want to think about” what would happen if we had cut this program, he said.
Students enrolled in the program told administrators that the program has had a profound impact on their lives.
“I am here to say it does help, and now I don’t have to drop out of high school,” student Mary White said. “I can go somewhere with my life and feel accomplished. I want you to take that into consideration when you talk about cutting the SEAL program.”
Steamboat’s District Accountability Committee will meet Tuesday night to discuss and rank the budget proposals. The school district typically approves its budget in June.
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com