Empire Readers Council Editorial: High school teams need to pay up to play

  • Friday, February 12, 2016 1:03am
  • Opinion

It is vital to keep the high school athletic and activity programs as part of secondary education in Juneau, but they must operate in a fiscally responsible manner.

High school athletics and activities are a critical piece of secondary education in Juneau. About 70 percent of all high school students participate in a sport or club activity. Activities have been shown to promote academic interest and achievement in high school. However, they come with a cost.

Back in 2008, then-City and Borough of Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho established the Task Force Exploring Activities Money (TEAM) that projected the cost of comprehensive high school activities programs at two high schools to be at least $2.2 million. As a result of the TEAM review and recommendations the school district agreed to support one-half the cost, the borough support one-quarter the cost, and a matching amount provided by private funding. This plan still stands today.

The high school football teams, like many other activities, have booster clubs that include players, their families, and interested community members and businesses. These booster clubs are independent of the school district and raise money to support specific activities and athletic teams.

In recent years, the booster clubs have not always been able to raise enough money to fully fund that portion of the costs not covered by the district or CBJ. These days, travel funds must be raised for every sport and activity. Funding for each sport and activity is often problematic.

Once the season is over, some players and participants move on to fundraising for another activity. Others may soon be graduating and it becomes difficult or impossible to raise the funds needed to cover the costs of the past season or activity. In some cases the school district may never be completely reimbursed.

By 2014, the level of funding resulting from the TEAM recommendations had diminished while costs of running the programs had increased. This resulted in some high school athletic and activity programs borrowing money from the district to meet costs, but with no real mechanism in place to pay it back.

The Oct. 20, 2015, Superintendent Report to the Juneau School Board provides an example of this problem. At that time the two high school football programs were over six figures in debt for the 2015 season. The season was not yet over and both additional fundraising and expenditures were still anticipated. However, it was clear that the amount needed to be raised was staggering.

Currently, the district has minimal consequences for unpaid debt. If an account remains in the red for two or more years, out-of-state travel will be denied and non-league travel may be reduced. To put this debt into perspective, after two years the accrued debt is large enough to cover the costs of additional teachers, counselors, or fill any number of other cuts in the district budget. Also, not acting more quickly does little to save the activity from its own desire to spend beyond its means, and secure its future longevity.

With less money coming from the borough and the school district, the burden to fund high school athletics and activities is on the back of parents, friends and the local business community as participants increase their funding requests. To ease the burden on local businesses and the time that students spend fundraising, the school board should move to require activities to reduce spending and operate in the black. To do that we recommend the following:

• Forgive debts that accrued before fall 2015 sports and activities so forward funding can take place.

• Based on 2015 debts (and past experience), cut travel to equal the 2015 debt. Cut out-of-state travel first, including both Juneau students traveling and support for inviting outside teams coming to Juneau for non-league games paid for by Juneau teams. Second, cut travel for in-state, non-league games or events. At the same time, require the activity to raise the same amount of funding in 2016-2017 as it raised in the 2015-2016 school year. This will eliminate any debts that occur in the current school year and reduce the possibility of incurring debt again in the 2016-2017 school year.

• Increase competition in Juneau between Thunder Mountain and Juneau-Douglas high schools. This has the added benefit of providing more games/events that friends and family in Juneau can attend. Investigate the option of increasing competition with other Southeast Alaska high schools, depending on ferry availability.

• If debt continues in the 2016-2017 school year, decrease travel again and put the activity on notice that they may be eliminated if they do not commence forward funding of their program.

With some work and increased attention to detail, we will not need to eliminate any activities. However, if the Juneau School District does not address this issue it cannot support all the activities that are currently available to high school students and some may have to be eliminated.

• Empire Readers’ Council editorials are written by members Joe Geldhof, Abby Lowell, Tom Rutecki and Alex Wertheimer. The council is currently seeking members; interested parties should contact Publisher Rustan Burton at rustan.burton@juneauempire.com.

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