To mend athletics shortfall, Steamboat school district considering a combination of fee increases, program cuts

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— To equitably fund all of its sports programs next school year and mend an annual transportation shortfall, the Steamboat Springs School District will consider increasing participation fees and cutting a few of its extra-curricular programs.

“It's tough,” Superintendent Brad Meeks said about finding the $70,000 the district needs next school year to eliminate the tiered system of sports funding and cover the transportation shortfall. “We have finite resources, and there are competing interests in the budget.”

Some changes the district is weighing for next school year include adding a new $20 fee on extra-curricular activities that include band, choir and student council; cutting the cheerleading program from two seasons to one; raising the middle school participation fee to $80; charging high school students a $10 class sponsorship fee; cutting the speech team at the high school; and eliminating the family maximum that prevents parents from paying more than $350 in participation fees for their student athletes.

Together, the fees and cuts would generate an estimated $50,475 if the participation levels in the programs do not fall as a result of the fee increases.

The district then would plan to subsidize the remaining $19,000 of the shortfall and hope to further reduce that commitment in following school years.

Meeks said recent conversations with the committee of parents and administrators who have developed the budget proposals revealed they were more willing to make up the budget deficit with fee increases rather than cutting sports programs.

He added that the district is working to make funding for athletic programs sustainable and also determine “at what level it is comfortable subsidizing the programs without compromising other programs.”

The challenge of filling the athletic shortfall comes as the district is weighing other funding requests from its schools and academic programs.

Meeks said competing interests for any additional dollars include a request from the elementary schools to add another Spanish teacher and expand that curriculum as well as desire for more physical education time in the school day, among other things.

“We've got many, many programs besides athletics, and we've got to stretch our dollars as much as possible so we can keep them,” Meeks said.

Meeks said in addition to the possible fee increases and program cuts, the district is looking into some efficiencies in athletic transportation that could save more money.

Booster club critical

As district officials prepare their budget for next school year, the head of the Steamboat Springs High School Booster Club said last week that the district should absorb the lion's share of the athletic budget shortfall.

Scott Glynn said some financial decisions made by the Steamboat Springs School Board and the district are responsible for the current budget gap.

He specifically cited the district's mandate that all student athletes travel to games in district vehicles (a decision it made to avoid liability issues), it's budget proposal for a full-time administrative assistant and its launch of the new health clinic for district employees as decisions that have negatively impacted the sports programs.

“Those are decisions they have made that have negatively impacted the activities culture in the school system, and those negative ramifications are driving this budget situation,” Glynn said. “Realistically, if the district was interested to find the money to (cover the shortfall and end the tiered system) they could do it.”

The district launched its health clinic at the start of this school year to help drive down the cost of its insurance premiums that have risen drastically in recent years.

But the decision to use a company from out of state was criticized by some doctors here, including ones with Steamboat Medical Group who for several years have donated all of the money they receive from some student physicals in the spring to the booster club.

Jim Dudley, who started the fundraiser decades ago, said he scaled back the services last year because he thought the district's clinic was hurting practices like his in town.

Glynn said Dudley's fundraiser typically nets about $9,000 each year, but the total came in significantly less last year.

Meeks said last week that he was surprised and disappointed to learn the fundraiser was scaled back as a result of the clinic.

He added that the decision to launch the new facility came after the district reached out to the local medical community.

In recent years, the booster club has raised about $50,000 annually for the athletic programs with $30,000 of that paying for transportation and the rest for scholarships, some coaching stipends and sports equipment.

Glynn said he would like to see the booster club use its funds in different ways.

“We don't feel the booster club's job is to make sure coaches are paid and uniforms are supplied. Those are the things the district should be funding,” Glynn said. “How much more beneficial would that $30,000 (we spend on transportation) be if we were able to provide students with safer equipment and help to reduce the cost of participation?”

The district's athletic program currently generates $648,808 in revenue.

About 66 percent, or $430,260, of that money comes from the district. About 33 percent, or $213,000 is generated at the high school through fees, subsidies and gate receipts. The remaining 1 percent comes from Steamboat Springs Middle School.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com

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