Palo Alto high schools tell board: Restore athletics funding

Students, parents describe how sports support teens' mental health

Students, parents and high-school athletics department staff made the case at Tuesday's school board meeting that sports play a critical role in supporting students' social-emotional health — and thus deserve the funding necessary to sustain that.

The board room was full of community members calling on district leadership to support a proposed budget allocation of $180,000 — $90,000 for each high school — to "restore" the schools' athletics programs.

For Eli Freelander, a Palo Alto High School senior and athlete, sports have "offered a great way to relieve stress during hard academic times and an outlet when anything else is going on in my very difficult teenage life."

For Walker Rosenthal, a Paly freshman who moved to Palo Alto this past summer, joining the football team was the way he made friends and adjusted to life at his new school.

For Melissa Anderson, co-president of the Paly sports boosters, sports sustained her children's personal and academic health from freshman year onward in numerous ways.

"It helps a large school become a little bit smaller. It reduced their stress. It's a great way to learn discipline and to also build relationships with other teammates and coaches and other adults," Anderson said. "We all know that connection with other adults on campus is a way for kids to succeed in high school. They learn things on a sports team that they don't learn in the classroom. I think that sports absolutely support classroom learning."

Many parents told the board that athletics eased their children's transition from middle school to high school. In particular, playing a fall sport gives students a built-in group of friends from the first day of school.

Students and parents described how athletics supports their children's well-being at a time and place where such needs have become of paramount importance and a major commitment of the school district.

"We talk a lot about social-emotional (health) in this district and we talk about listening to kids and seeing where their spark is, where their interest is," parent Kristin Andersen said. "Kids vote based on their enrollment. That is their voice. When you see them sign up in these numbers for athletics, they're telling you something: 'This is important to me.'"

But the parents who do the fundraising for these key programs say they're stretched thin, and need the district to step up its support.

Paly Athletic Director Kathi Bowers told the board that "every single cent" of the school's $250,000 to $275,000 athletics budget is raised by sports boosters. While the school district pays for personnel, such as the coaches' and athletic trainers' salaries, parents are left to fundraise to support the fabric of the programs: transportation, league dues, officials' fees, tournament entry fees, equipment, uniforms, training room supplies, team awards and the like.

Gunn Athletic Director Curt Johansen said that his school's athletes attend about 350 competitions each year and there are usually two to three officials per contest, the costs for which the schools have to cover.

The district did used to supplement parents' fundraising efforts, but it was cut in 2001, according to the Paly sports boosters. The schools moved to a "pay-to-play" model that asked student-athletes to pitch in a $100 fee. That worked well for awhile, Bowers said, but it was decided several years ago to shift to a donation-based model.

Other surrounding districts pay for their schools' Central Coast Section (CCS) and league fees as well as the cost for officials and some, for transportation, school staff said. The proposed $90,000 for each school would cover transportation, referees and leagues fees for the programs over two years.

Bowers said that more than 1,000 Paly students this year are participating in at least one sport — 150 more students than last year. Since cuts were made years ago, the schools have also added new sports, including boys and girls lacrosse, freshman football, freshman volleyball and freshman basketball. Another parent said that because of a new law that will go into effect in 2017, cheer will become a sport and "we will be adding to the burden of sports boosters at that time."

"We're all scrambling for the last dollar and it's very difficult," a mother of a freshman cheerleader at Paly said. "It takes a lot of the parental goodwill when we have to keep going back and asking and asking and asking (for money)."

"Cheer and dance, like many extracurriculars, provide a way for students — many of whom would otherwise be on the margins — a positive outlet and sense of community," she added.

School board members indicated support for the additional funding, though it was not up for a vote Tuesday night.

"I can't imagine a high school without an athletic program," said board member Melissa Baten Caswell, just as she can't imagine a high school without theater, choir, speech and debate and arts. She and other board members stressed the importance of supporting whatever it is that high school students gravitate toward outside of the classroom.

Board Vice President Terry Godfrey said while her high school son "goes to school to play lacrosse," for her graduated daughter, it was water polo, swimming and journalism. For other students, its robotics, choir, glass-blowing or something else, she said.

"All of them we should look at with that same eye that it's their (students') family on campus," Godfrey said.

Superintendent Max McGee has said that the series of proposed budget requests, including for high-school athletics, will return to the board for action at the board's next meeting on April 19. McGee and his staff will also provide recommendations at that time for which budget items to prioritize in the coming school year.

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15 people like this
Posted by Pappas
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Mar 23, 2016 at 10:25 am


11 people like this
Posted by A Parent
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 23, 2016 at 11:04 am

So let's be clear - as far as I can tell, no additional students will be play high school sports if the district puts in more $$. And the district does pay for coaches and trainers, equipment, facilities, etc. So this will basically take tax dollars that could be spent on instruction or really anything, and spend it on something that is privately funded today (and has been since 2001). So the primary beneficiaries of this funding is the sports boosters, who now can see their dollars spent on fancier things vs. "the basics."

It was interesting the student (a football player I think) who said at the meeting that Paly didn't necessarily have all the fanciest facilities, like Menlo School, but still, sports were very important. Said that our benchmark for comparison is a super-expensive and well-funded private school. Almost any other public school would envy our facilities and funding.

25 people like this
Posted by Auntie
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 23, 2016 at 12:26 pm

Auntie is a registered user.

When it comes to sports programs, such a wealthy district should not have to go begging! But it does!

I have received three begging letters/emails/Facebook posts from kids in Paly girls' sports. I have contributed to each because it appears that girls' sports are being singled out, and that is so shameful. I have yet to receive any begging correspondence from any nephews, or sons of friends!

25 people like this
Posted by Not a lawyer, but...
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 23, 2016 at 1:19 pm

"Paly Athletic Director Kathi Bowers told the board that "every single cent" of the school's $250,000 to $275,000 athletics budget is raised by sports boosters."

If this is true - that there is no official PAUSD budget for these required elements of a school-based athletic program - and that parents are assumed to be the de facto funders for school athletics - how is this not a conscious violation of Ed Code 49010- 49013? To have no budget suggests (to me)that having parents assume the costs is "conscious" and a clear violation.

From PAUSD's own attorneys, Lozano-Smith: Web Link

From California Dept. of Ed: Web Link

Of course the school district should budget for this - it is a fundamental part of the school experience and guaranteed by law. Of course they can ask parents and boosters for donations - but abandoning a budget and assuming parents will donate to cover required costs is pushing the donation aspect of the Ed Code into violation.

14 people like this
Posted by Chris
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 23, 2016 at 2:10 pm

Dear "A Parent:"

To be clear (as it states in the article)--PAUSD does NOT pay for "equipment, facilities, etc." They pay for coach and trainer salaries. As parents of kids playing sports, we engage in fundraising through the booster clubs to cover things like uniforms, CCS (Central Coast Section) fees, equipment and the cost of officials at games (among other things). Transportation to and from games relies on families as well.

The property tax base has increased tremendously in the previous 6 years. It seems reasonable that the district can afford to pay for the costs of a sports program that is so central to the experience of many high school students. This is not an additional burden on tax payers. It's a question of how the district should allocate existing resources. If there are competing instructional expenses (my guess is $180K over two years at two schools would hire about less than one FT teacher (45K per year) but this is an apples and oranges comparisons since salaries are commitments that go beyond the two year proposal), I'd like to hear what those are.

2 people like this
Posted by A Parent
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 23, 2016 at 3:13 pm

@Chris - I don't believe sports teams pay for the facilities, which are provided by the district (pools, fields, gyms), many having recently been rebuilt or improved with bond funds. Equipment I am less certain of - on the teams my kids were involved with, uniforms needed to be purchased with booster funds (matched by team funds), but equipment (balls, helmets, goals) where provided.

If you heard the discussion last night about secondary school class sizes, or high school teaming/SLC concepts, or full-day kindergarten, then you know that incremental instructional dollars could be put to good use.

The argument that a lot of kids do it and enjoy it does not seem to equate to why it should be funded. Kids enjoy prom too - should the district pay for prom tickets? Choir and band trips are awesome - should those be paid for? In our Prop 13-driven world, it makes sense to me to put every dollar into instruction, and have donations fill in where they can.

18 people like this
Posted by Paly Coach
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 23, 2016 at 3:16 pm

Student athletes today in the PAUSD are asked to make a tax deductible contribution of about $200 per sport per season per player. It is voluntary - however, the district does make a very clear statement that this is how they fund the majority of sports team expenses, and it is expected that the majority of players will contribute. And they do.

We do not do this for basic instruction in music, art, science, english, or any other core part of the academic program at our high schools. This seems somewhat unfair. Athletics is a very big part of high school for many of our students at Paly and at Gunn. This money is not being used to provide over the top trips to exotic locations, expensive uniforms, or professional training facilities. It is merely to provide the basics. Further, our coaching budget is very low. Most sports are forced to find several assistant coaches who will work for basically no pay. The Head Coach stipends barely cover the amount of wear and tear on their car and gasoline to get to practices and games.

I do not think this has anything to do with competing with private schools. The Head Coach of my sport at Sacred Heart Prep is paid $30K per year, whereas his Paly and Gunn counterparts make a single digit fraction of that amount. A minor coaching stipend increase, and an increase in the number of smaller stipends for assistant coaches, would go a very long way to continuing the tradition of athletic excellence at Paly and Gunn.

I know for a fact that this $200 per season expense is very difficult for some families This does not cover the additional equipment they may need to purchase in order to participate competitively.

There is really no reason to treat athletics any different than any other part of the core curriculum. PAUSD should provide adequate funding to field the teams without resorting to a constant stream of additional fees on the families. Now that the budget bucket appears to be overfilled with extra cash, restoring the funding to enable our teams to continue to flourish seems like a very wise decision.

11 people like this
Posted by A Parent
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 23, 2016 at 3:30 pm

"There is really no reason to treat athletics any different than any other part of the core curriculum. "

@Paly Coach - ouch, that's just wrong, sorry. The main purpose of the schools is education; sports is an extracurricular. Some items you mention (music, art, theater, journalism) are included in the academic curriculum - students get course credit for them, just as they do for PE, and those things are paid for. After school sports is not one of those things; nor is debate, model UN, robotics, DECA, YCS, or any of the many other activities.

The $200 per sport donation is expensive for some families; that's why it is an optional, voluntary contribution. No one is denied access if they do not contribute. And of course some families give more, usually through boosters.

Sports are great - my kids fully participated and we happily paid for it. No kid is required to pay anything to participate. We are a wealthy community, and it is great that donors (mostly participating families) can pay to provide this activity for our kids.

13 people like this
Posted by Paly Coach
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 23, 2016 at 4:03 pm

@A Parent

I guess that is just where we disagree. Athletics to me is every bit as important as Music, Art, Theatre, and Journalism, and truthfully no different in any meaningful way. And just FYI, I am far from a jock. The distinction of sports as an 'activity' is meaningless. If you surveyed a typical Paly class, and asked what percent of students found meaning and importance in athletics versus these other subjects, I think you would find athletics at the top of they list.

When I was a kid, if my single Mom parent had to pay the equivalent of what kids now must pay, I would not have been allowed to play three sports. My public school in a middle class neighborhood did not charge us additional to play sports, nor did they charge me extra to play in the jazz band, the concert band, or write for the school paper.
Yes, when the band wanted to go to Washington DC, we paid. But we did not pay so we could have a uniform on our back.

And on top of this money, parents are still very often required to drive kids constantly to away games, because there is no money for a bus or a van to a game in the budget. My wife was basically a taxi-cab driver for the baseball team for 4 years. She was glad to do it - but there is no reason that we can not treat athletics with a small amount of respect and make sure that kids are allowed and encouraged to participate with the burden of additional financial costs.

11 people like this
Posted by Not a lawyer, but
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 23, 2016 at 5:28 pm

@ A Parent: the Supreme Court of California, the Ed Code and Assembly bill 1575 agrees with Paly Coach that school athletic teams are considered integral, fundamental parts of ...secondary education. (see links in earlier post or google "student fees in CA public schools")

Excerpt from CA Dept. of Ed:
"In 1874, the State Supreme Court held that this provision entitled students to be educated at public expense.

The California Education Code (EC), as amended by Assembly Bill (AB) 1575 in 2012, provides that a pupil enrolled in a public school shall not be required to pay a pupil fee for participation in an educational activity.

“Educational activity” is defined as an activity offered by a school, school district, charter school or county office of education that constitutes an integral fundamental part of elementary and secondary education, including, but not limited to, curricular and extracurricular activities.

“Pupil fee” is defined as a fee, deposit or charge imposed on pupils, or a pupil’s parents or guardians, including but not limited to:
1.A fee charged to a pupil as a condition for registering for school or classes, or as a condition for participation in a class or an extracurricular activity, regardless of whether the class or activity is elective or compulsory, or is for credit.

2.A security deposit, or other payment, that a pupil is required to make to obtain a lock, locker, book, class apparatus, musical instrument, uniform, or other materials or equipment.

3.A purchase that a pupil is required to make to obtain materials, supplies, equipment, or uniforms associated with an educational activity.5

All of the following apply to the prohibition on pupil fees described above:
1.All supplies, materials and equipment needed to participate in educational activities shall be provided to pupils free of charge.

2.A fee waiver policy shall not make a pupil fee permissible.

3.School districts and schools shall not establish a two-tier educational system by requiring a minimal educational standard and also offering a second, higher educational standard that pupils may only obtain through payment of a fee or purchase of additional supplies that the school district or school does not provide.

4.A school district or school shall not offer course credit or privileges related to educational activities in exchange for money or donations of goods or services from a pupil or a pupil’s parents or guardians, and a school district or school shall not remove course credit or privileges related to educational activities, or otherwise discriminate against a pupil, because the pupil’s parents or guardians did not or will not provide money or donations of goods or services to the school district or school.

Schools can solicit voluntary donations of funds or property, and voluntary participation in fundraising activities.

The following analysis may be helpful when determining whether a fee can be charged:

Is the fee specifically authorized by statute? If so, the fee can be charged.

If the fee is not specifically authorized by statute, does it relate to an activity that is an integral component of public education? If so, the fee cannot be charged. Local educational agencies (LEAs) may also wish to consult their own attorneys."

From same link: "III. Fees not allowed: The Opinions of the Attorney General indicate that charges may not be levied for the following:

...D. Membership fees in a student body or any student organization as a condition for enrollment or participation in athletic or other curricular or extracurricular activities sponsored by the school."

How does the fact that there is no budget (per K Bowers' comment) and a history of 100% reliance on parent donations square with the spirit or letter of the law?

31 people like this
Posted by elite
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 23, 2016 at 5:36 pm

I agree that participating in HS sports can be very beneficial physically, emotionally, and socially for many kids. This is why I believe it's very unfortunate that large public HSs like Paly and Gunn only have a very limited number of slots on each of the teams for players. My son, who is an enthusiastic and excellent (but not superior) athlete, was not able to play JV soccer or basketball as he didn't make the teams. I would like to see PAUSD allocate sufficient funds so that there could be more teams (i.e. A and B) for popular sports, allowing more students to benefit.

4 people like this
Posted by A Parent
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 23, 2016 at 7:11 pm

@Paly Coach - I agree - we disagree. I can't see any way that sports, an after-school, non-credit, optional activity, coached by uncertificated, part-time staff and volunteers, are as integral to the mission of our schools as academics. Just like debate, YCS, Model UN, etc., they are a nice-to-have extracurricular activity; like those activities, funding by the participants (and willing donors) seems appropriate.

As you know, NO ONE is required to pay or donate for sports participation. The law does not permit it. Any kid can just show up and make the team if they can (or do a no cut sport).

And of course, the district has spent MILLIONS to provide excellent pools, gyms, fields, courts, training facilities, etc and the staff that maintains them and preps for competitions and cleans up afterwards. And the Athletic Directors. And the trainers. And the coaching stipends.

Yes, we could spend more, and some others do, no doubt. If we did, it would allow the boosters to raise less or spend on other things. But given what we already provide, and kids are not required to pay anything to participate, it seems to me that the money could be spent more beneficially on TEACHERS and classroom use.

11 people like this
Posted by Raj
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 23, 2016 at 8:33 pm

Coincidentally, that $180,000 figure is probably close to the annual cost of the compensation package that former Superintendent Skelley's pr person, I assume still employed by PAUSD, draws every year. It is my view that pr people are employed to cloud the truth, obscure facts, and otherwise divert, avoid, and shield someone from the press. Skelley personally needed a pr person, but PAUSD should not.

10 people like this
Posted by LelandManorMom
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 23, 2016 at 9:07 pm

Sports are a critical part of the traditional high school experience. Moreover, coaches spent a lot of time with our children and can serve as fantastic mentors and role models. In a community in which high school stress is one of the hottest topics, coaches, their training and their ability to spend quality time with our kids should be more valued.

There is no value in pitting extracurriculars against each other. Some kids excel at music, some at art, some at writing and some at sports. Let's try to support them all and let's get the District focused on that support.

I support the coach who spoke up and I hope others will too.

20 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 24, 2016 at 6:05 am

High school sports actually contribute to stress. They also create a culture of jocks who feel superior to other students. Among some male student athletes they develop a culture of misogyny that leads to violence against women. I was a high school athlete and witness it first hand. High schools in other advanced countries don't have competitive athletic programs and culture, and are doing just fine. High school athletics are definitely not as important as music, science, etc. They shouldn't be a crtiical part of the high school experience. Our society is already excessively and compulsively competitive. I would be happy to see competitive athletics disappear from high our schools altogether, but if they are to stay, they should be fully financed by the parents of the participating students.

19 people like this
Posted by Agree with Elite
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 24, 2016 at 12:56 pm

It would be great if the school could support all activities, such as debate, robotics, varsity sports and club sports. Unfortunately they can't. School sports seem to get more resources than most of the other activities, which are just as important to those kids as varsity sports. I would vote to put any sports $$ to club sports, and such club sports would have access to share the fields with the elite teams. The school would not say that less smart kids shouldn't be able to use the classrooms. so why can't kids that can't make the teams have non-competitive ball-based teams. Obviously, some of us are not crying a river for the kids who can actually make the teams and have to donate fees, just like the rest of the activities.

1 person likes this
Posted by Paly Mom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 24, 2016 at 5:14 pm

Play Coach-Thank you!! Well said.

2 people like this
Posted by My Take
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 29, 2016 at 1:53 am

A Parent, You have a bias against sports. It clouds your judgement in this matter.

Our high school students do not all fit in the same mold. Many of them thrive in a sports environment as it provides stress relief as well as opportunities and experiences that build life skills.

None of the classes you deem worthy has the potential to teach team work, resilience, persistence, leadership, or the ability to place one's body on the line, but sports does all that. You need to stand down in your attacks against sports, as you clearly have not had these benefits yourself.

It is high time sports funding was restored to Palo Alto schools. For the well being and the full education of our students.

7 people like this
Posted by Another Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 29, 2016 at 9:58 am

@Raj and @Agree with Elite,
I agree with you 100%. It's really high time this district also offered intramural sports that take all comers and tend to be a great way to improve mental health, school connectedness, and a great reliever of stress. Not as a replacement for elite sports, but as an alternative for kids who want to play but just for fun and exercise. If the district paid for intramural sports, the support for that would in turn help the elite sports. Parents should have to provide the funds for elite sports.

That said, the district should not be adding another (unnamed, no less) expensive administrator who seems to cost more than the money being asked for the kids. Shame on the district office for that, and shame on the parents who are willing to put all that energy into fundraising but not lift a finger to hold the district accountable, so that future kids and families benefit from a less top-heavy, expensive bureaucracy. Of districts in the state that are wealthy like ours, Palo Alto is in the very bottom percentile in terms of how much of its budget goes for the kids education.

@Not a lawyer,
District library programs are the same way, the district pays only for the librarians, all the books and library programs come from PTA. We pay them like kings but accept a coupon-clipping result. Since you are not a lawyer but good with the law, why not do some digging about how our money us really being spent and where there is opportunity to reclaim it for our kids?

8 people like this
Posted by Paly '81 Alum
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 29, 2016 at 1:12 pm

It's wrong to say that other activities are more important than sports and to say that there is enough competition otherwise so there is no need to compete in sports. Sports take a significant amount of time out of the weekdays. Those who want to engage are sacrificing studying time to pursue their interest. Since the teams represent the school, the schools should should put some money into sports. Even those who don't attend sports events are proud of our teams when they win.

Academics at Paly is much more rigorous than back when I attended when we had a lot of free time and college admissions were much, much easier. Sports are as important as music, art, etc. and should be supported by the schools. Depending on the sport, parents are also paying for their children to play on outside sports teams, such as travel teams, athletic training, private lessons, clinics, summer camps. Yes, that's how seriously sports are to some people. And just because this is and has always been an intellectual city, doesn't mean sports should be ignored.

This is completely incorrect: "Any kid can just show up and make the team." A posting above suggests intramural sports, supporting the fact that anyone cannot walk-on and be on the team.

As far as mauricio's comment about eliminating sports, remember that PAUSD is a public school district where sports are expected to be part of the culture. Some people tend to forget that it's not a private school solely for college-prep. And having attended PAUSD from back in the 70s, I can tell you that mauricio's experience with jocks is different than the culture at PAUSD schools. Sure, in many other schools in the nation, jocks are the stupid pricks. But in PAUSD, there are many jocks who are also nice, intelligent guys. Yes, they can do stupid things like any other teen male, but overall, folks . . . The culture in PAUSD schools is much different than other schools in the nation and only PAUSD alums know this. There is little to no bullying or mean students in PAUSD high schools (besides the academic snobs, but that is part of their culture).

5 people like this
Posted by Good point
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 29, 2016 at 4:27 pm

The amount of money spent on sports already vastly exceeds the money spent on other activities. Noone thinks sports are bad, but they get what they need, now they're just asking for more. It's fine to ask, but the board should just say no. Fund small classes and counseling instead.

5 people like this
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 30, 2016 at 12:36 am

Almost all of the students who play school sports play on "club" teams (soccer, basketball, baseball/softball). "Club" teams are all privately funded; the club sports do alot of the player development - physical conditioning, technicial skill training, team tactics training, etc.

The typical cost of for a player to participate in a "club" season, like soccer is anywhere from $700 - $1000. It seems that the cost of playing for the high school of $200 is rather small, compared to what the family pays for the club season.

However, if public funds are to be used for high school sports, then everyone who wants to participate should be put onto the team; just like everyone who wants to take biology, or math, or english can. But right now, only a very small percentage of students get to participate in any of the non-cut sports.

2 people like this
Posted by Duck
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 29, 2016 at 6:34 pm

Duck is a registered user.

When my daughter's BFF went to Los Altos High, her mom paid $120/month for her to be on the swim team

Fortunately, that was only 4 months of the year!

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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