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Published: Wednesday, 2/6/2008

Northwood boosters plan to pay some cost for sports

BY CHAUNCEY ALCORN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Jim Wheeler of the rock band 12 Dive, below, made up of former Northwood High School football players, performs during a fund-raiser for the Rangers. Jim Wheeler of the rock band 12 Dive, below, made up of former Northwood High School football players, performs during a fund-raiser for the Rangers.
JEREMY WADSWORTH Enlarge

NORTHWOOD - While school administrators discuss plans to cut their budgets, the high school's booster club and fund-raising organizations are planning ways to pick up the costs district taxpayers can't afford.

The board of the Northwood Local Schools last month unanimously approved cost-saving recommendations made by Superintendent Greg Clark that include requiring student athletes to "pay-to-play" their sport of choice.

Mr. Clark said administrators are examining pay-to-play programs in other school districts to determine what a fair and reasonable participation fee would be in Northwood, but participation fees alone won't come near the cost of paying the district's bills this year.

Treasurer Pat Weber said Northwood Schools must save nearly $401,000 to break even while Mr. Clark said that figure is closer to $500,000.

"The $401,000 would get you to zero. You have to do better than getting to zero," he said. "If the levy passes in March, we need to be somewhere north of $500,000. If it fails we need to be somewhere north of $700,000."

Ms. Weber said extracurricular activities, including sports, only make up about $200,000, less than 2 percent of the district's nearly $11 million general fund budget.

The vast majority of that budget pays for teacher's salaries and benefits, but Mr. Clark has said previously laying off teachers is something he wants to avoid.

"I felt like I had to roll some ideas out in order to avoid affecting the education of the students. We didn't really want to dig into the academics."

Dale Niese, the treasurer of the Northwood High School Athletic Boosters Club, said his or-ganization is looking to provide scholarships to ensure athletes who can't afford to pay increased participation fees still have the opportunity to play sports.

"We know that there are a number of students who will be affected by increased fees," he said. "Some kids now can't afford to buy baseball spikes or caps and in the past that has been paid for by the individual teams themselves. ..."

The booster club may be able to help finance student participation fees, but it can't legally pay the salaries of assistant coaches, according to Mr. Niese, who said that paying for coaches isn't something the club wants to consider.

"I'd be more apt to say maybe the coaching staff needs to make some cuts backwards, reduce staff or share some of the pay they currently have."

Ken James, the high school's football coach who has six assistant coaches, said he will do what he can to avoid reducing his staff's paid positions, even if that means pooling money and distributing it more evenly among veteran coaches.

"I've got guys that are working for half pay already," Mr. James said, adding that letting go of coaches will be the last step he takes.

"I'm not going to let one of my coaches work that way. Even if I have to take money out of my pocket, that is a last resort."

Mr. James said he is considering increasing team fund-raisers to make up for lost revenue, but he won't allow budget cuts to affect the quality of his program.

"I won't let it affect the kids," he said. "It may change the way we do our job, if we have our present staff, but whatever has to get done will get done."

Mr. James said the private community has been active for years in raising money for Northwood Schools that taxpayers can't pay themselves.

He is a member of the Northwood Community Athletic Project, which raises money to pay for major athletic projects like the district's new outdoor track, which cost about $170,000.

"Compared to what we've been up against in the past, this is pretty mild," Mr. James said. "But if this turns into a five-year deal where now I've got coaches working at half price, that becomes more of an issue."



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