A discussion about the future of Tier 1 and Tier 2 sports in Steamboat Springs on Monday night filled a School Board meeting with parents and student athletes.

Photo by Scott Franz

A discussion about the future of Tier 1 and Tier 2 sports in Steamboat Springs on Monday night filled a School Board meeting with parents and student athletes.

Steamboat Springs School District seeks an end to two-tiered system of athletic funding

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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 a $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.

— For the second time in less than a year, parents and student-athletes in Steamboat Springs packed a school board meeting seeking equity in athletic funding.

“The current system is like writing a paper on a typewriter. It's old and outdated,” Steamboat Springs High School junior and Tier 2 athlete Ben Wharton said. “We need to fund all athletes in an unbiased fashion.”

In Steamboat, Tier 1 sports — which include such programs as basketball and football — are fully funded by the school district. Tier 2 sports are not.

Steamboat Springs Athletics Director Luke DeWolfe on Monday night said a vast majority of the parents who have recently weighed in on the funding system want the school district to increase athletic funding and equalize what each tier receives.

He presented the School Board with a $37,500 solution to fund all of the district's sports equally next year and do away with the tiered system that most in the meeting room Monday agreed is antiquated.

DeWolfe and Steamboat Springs High School Principal Kevin Taulman recommended the district make all sports Tier 1 by completely covering the cost of coaching salaries and also paying more to provide an operating budget for sports that previously were Tier 2.

Officials estimate the added cost to the district would be $37,500.

But the school district also would have to find a way to cover a transportation budget shortfall currently estimated to total $30,000.

Many of the School Board members were quick to note the athletic department's budget will have to be weighed this spring along with all of the other proposed budgets that will come from the schools, the administration and the district's transportation and technology departments.

“As a district we've gone through four years of cuts, and that's what we will need to balance,” board member Denise Connelly said.

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

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.

Later in Monday's meeting, Board President Brian Kelly said the athletic department also should evaluate its programs as the budget season nears.

“I have no trouble eliminating Tier 1 and Tier 2,” he said. “We're past that. But we need some kind of criteria, just like we have in academics, that if an (athletic program) is struggling, at what point with a school of our size and with so many athletic programs do we let go of it and make the other activities that much stronger?”

DeWolfe and Taulman presented the board with four options to solve the athletic department's budget shortfall next school year.

They said it could keep the status quo and again cover the transportation shortfall; it could make all sports Tier 1 and shift more costs to the school district; it could make all sports Tier 2 and shift more costs to athletes; or it could cut athletic programs.

“Hopefully, somewhere within those options lies some sort of solution and hopefully it's a long-term sustainable solution,” DeWolfe said.

Also at Monday's School Board meeting:

-The board voted unanimously to refinance the district's Series 2007 General Obligation Bonds. According to Finance Director Dale Mellor, the refinancing has the potential to “save taxpayers approximately $910,000 over the next 10 years.” Dan O'Connell, director for RBC Capital Markets, told the board the savings would be gained from securing lower interest rates.

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