Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - May 21, 2010

Sports Boosters fund major athletic projects, team expenses

Participation fees, fundraising efforts help pay for athletic teams, sports programs

by Terri Lobdell

Sharp budget cuts in the 1990s hit high school sports programs and teams hard and created new ways of funding sports including participation fees, a larger role for Sports Boosters organizations and energetic fundraising.

One change was the $150 per season fee levied on student-athletes. (Scholarships were also made available.)

In addition, each school's Sports Boosters nonprofit organization, run by parents and school officials, increased fundraising efforts to support sports expenses not covered by the fees.

The fees and fundraising now cover nearly all non-coaching costs of local public high school athletics including equipment, officials, uniforms, transportation, tournament fees, medical supplies, janitors, ticket-takers, portable toilets, police, parking attendants, league fees, awards trophies and plaques, according to Sports Boosters officials at both Gunn and Paly.

Sports Boosters is prohibited from paying coaches. Coach compensation remains in the school district budget, and coaches continue as district employees, both school and Sports Boosters officials say.

Low coach pay remains a concern, however, and some parents chafe at restrictions. One Gunn High School softball parent asked Athletic Director Chris Horpel about how to supplement coach compensation in an effort to stabilize the program after a history of turnovers.

"Frankly I'd rather put my money and energy into helping the school than some hyper-competitive club team," the parent wrote in a September 2009 e-mail.

Horpel responded: "Parents can ... give 'presents' to their coaches, which can be anything from a gift certificate to Starbucks to a check for $5,000. These gifts cannot be given up front, as this is against (Palo Alto Unified School District) policies."

When contacted by the Weekly about the e-mail, Horpel said he does not know of any large gifts of the type his e-mail suggested. The usual coach gift at the end of a season is around $100-$200, he said. However, he noted, there is no way of knowing, as there is no documentation of gift amounts.

"Since the district does not allow any additional funds to be given as a stipend, a gift is the only way around it, if you want to look at it that way," he said.

Assistant Superintendent Scott Bowers confirmed that the district does not have a specific policy on employee gifts, although he pointed to Board Policy E 4119.21, which prohibits credentialed teachers from accepting gifts that might impair professional decisions. This leaves a large gray area.

Sports Boosters is permitted, however, to pay for coach-training classes at both Palo Alto public high schools, including the required "Fundamentals of Coaching" course (administered by national organizations, including an online version) for all coaches, paid and unpaid.

An additional source of funds for this course comes from the "Stellar Coaches Fund," established by a Palo Alto family and available to both schools for certain designated sports expenses. Between the Stellar fund and the Boosters, the required training courses are covered at both schools, according to Gunn and Paly Boosters.

Sports Boosters' fundraising is accomplished through the sale of Sports Booster Passes, school gear and fundraising events. At Gunn, there is an annual winter fundraising dinner at Trader Vic's. Paly Sports Boosters sponsored a Christmas tree lot this past year and also hosts a spring golf tournament. This year both Paly and Gunn benefited from a Palo Alto Firefighters cook-off to support local high school sports programs.

Last year, Paly Sports Boosters Treasurer Karan Barich reported that $175,000 from the Sports Boosters general fund (which includes participation fees along with fundraising dollars) was deposited into the Paly athletic account to reimburse program expenditures.

Team "extras" such as team parties, special gear and other amenities are paid for through team-specific fundraising activities at both schools, including concession stands. These funds are deposited into separate "team accounts" also administered by Sports Boosters.

Larger facilities projects at both schools are also funded by Sports Boosters, along with other private organizations and donors, according to the Boosters.

A second and separate nonprofit organization is also affiliated with Paly sports, called the ACCEL ("Athletic Communities Create Exceptional Leaders") Foundation. Founded by Paly parents, it raises funds for larger facilities projects at Paly, according to Dave Atkinson, one of its founders.

ACCEL has paid for Paly's new pool, the baseball infield and the new track at Paly, in addition to contributing to the costs of the stadium lights. In addition, the Paly Sports Boosters has paid for recent renovation of the gym entrance, renovation of the trophy cases and new Viking logos for the gym floor, according to Barich. Two years ago, Barich said that Paly Sports Boosters provided the almost $40,000 needed to finish and equip Paly's new pool.

Gunn Sports Boosters Treasurer Nancy Hughes said Gunn Sports Boosters has raised about $170,000 for a new track, about $350,000 for stadium lights, about $250,000 for architectural plans for the new pool, and about $125,000 for turf infield for baseball, dugouts and scoreboards. Hughes said the passage of Measure A in 2005 "provided a welcome and significant balance in our needs for major project fundraising."

The athletic directors at each school are closely involved in setting funding priorities for all Sports Boosters expenditures. Barich said Paly Athletic Director Earl Hansen "works with each sport's head coach to determine what each team needs in a given year. He budgets the athletic program expenditures in the same manner and with the same authority as he did when (Palo Alto Unified School District) was paying the bills."

At Gunn, Hughes said, the $150 participation fees are deposited directly into Gunn accounts and are part of the school budget administered directly by Horpel as athletic director.

Comments

Posted by Claire Emery, a resident of another community
on Jan 23, 2012 at 2:47 pm

Your Cultural Kaleidescope Program sounds amazing-- I am an Artist in Residence in Missoula, MT at a school and while looking for lessons on kaleidescopes, came across this fascinating cultural program. Thank you for sharing the lesson plans and the successes with the larger community. IAm taking inspiration on how I can make a culturally relevant program in my area!


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