Steamboat Springs High School athletic funding again will be a major budget discussion

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Tier 1 sports

Includes: basketball, cross-country, football, soccer, speech, track and field, volleyball

Tier 1 sports are funded fully by the Steamboat Springs School District. Athletes pay a $150 participation fee and $30 transportation fee.

Tier 2 sports

Includes: baseball, cheerleading, golf, hockey, lacrosse, skiing (Alpine and Nordic), tennis and wrestling

Tier 2 sports were self-funded as recently as the 2007-08 school year, and parents had to drive participating athletes to and from games.

To avoid liability issues and increase student safety, the district decided four years ago to fund transportation for Tier 2 sports (athletes pay a $30 transportation fee). It also changed the funding system so that some coaches’ salaries were funded through a $150 participation fee paid by student athletes.

— Jim Kissane was a Steamboat Springs School Board member for less than 10 minutes Wednesday night when his fellow board members outlined the challenges they will face in the coming months.

The list included evaluating a restructured fifth-grade band program, weighing an expensive five-year capital improvement plan and once again discussing how athletics in Steamboat Springs will be funded next school year.

The latter discussion could have major implications for the district, student athletes and their parents.

“It would be best to avoid the situation we had last year where we ended up with a packed room of upset parents,” board President Brian Kelly said Thursday as he explained why the School Board plans to host a meeting Jan. 28 to discuss the future of Tier 1 and 2 sports in Steamboat Springs.

Although budget season isn't in full swing, he said, parents already are calling and emailing the district and board members with their concerns about how sports will be funded.

The school district's athletic department faced a funding crisis this school year stemming from a $30,000 transportation budget deficit.

The district said it had to cut athletic programs, find the money to cover the deficit or stop funding Tier 2 sports, including baseball, cheerleading, golf, hockey, lacrosse, skiing, tennis and wrestling.

To close the gap, the district imposed a mandatory $30 transportation fee on all athletes (it previously was optional for Tier 1 athletes), leaned on the Steamboat Booster Club to raise an additional $11,000 and scrapped a $12,000 proposal to add an administrative assistant in the central office.

Athletic Director Luke DeWolfe said Thursday that those changes will carry sports programs through this school year, but he expects another budget shortfall next school year will force the district to make more changes to sustain sports programs or identify another “Band-Aid” that would buy the district another year of the status quo.

“I think it's been a temporary fix,” DeWolfe said about the changes made this year. “It definitely stretches our Booster Club in terms of what they're able to give to individual sports, and it limits them in terms of capital improvements.”

He said he, too, has heard from parents and community members in recent weeks who have concerns about athletic funding.

"I think most people are very much of the consensus that the Tier 1 and Tier 2 system is outdated, and we need to look at alternative means by which to fund all sports a little more equally,” he said. “Then from there, we have opinions that run the gamut as to how we get to that point.”

He said if Tier 1 and 2 sports were on equal footing, the district would have to determine how to cover the added expense of budgets for Tier 2 sports to pay for uniforms and supplies.

Those costs currently are covered only for Tier 1 athletes.

DeWolfe said some community members prefer the status quo while others are in favor raising fees on all student athletes to pay for the added expense of funding all sports equally.

Then there are those who think it's the school district's responsibility to fund the sports as well as those who think sports shouldn't be funded by the district.

“Ideally, I would like to see all of our sports fully funded and to be able to get rid of Tier 1 and Tier 2. I'd love to see that, we just haven't figured out how to get there yet,” DeWolfe said. “The question is how we fund it. Is it the district? Is it taxpayer dollars? Or is it increased fees? I personally think it should be shared as much as possible. What's fair and equitable is the question.”

And there are some complications.

For one, Steamboat Springs athletes already face some of the highest participation fees in the state at $150.

It also remains to be seen how much money the district will have to work with next school year.

DeWolfe plans to meet with Steamboat Springs High School Principal Kevin Taulman and Superintendent Brad Meeks on Friday to discuss possible changes to the athletic program for next school year.

The athletic director said he thinks that the district, parents and the Booster Club should continue sharing a funding role but that the finance formula must be sustainable.

“And if it's not sustainable, do we need to cut programs at that point or look at the way our programs are run?” he asked. “Those are questions we've looked at in the past, and we've really tried to minimize the cost as much as we can.”

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

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