Correction: This story was revised at 11:13 a.m., June 22, 2011, to state that a new nonprofit foundation hopes to raise $400,000 per year by 2015.


In order to avoid Title IX violations and address long-term funding issues for high school sports, Portland’s school board is considering a new game plan that would eliminate separate booster clubs for each sport.

In their place, Portland and Deering high schools would each have a single booster club to oversee and manage all the fundraising at their respective schools.

The proposed new policy received a first reading at Tuesday’s school board meeting – about a year after the district’s law firm, Drummond Woodsum, issued a report criticizing the shoddy bookkeeping and possible inequities involving interscholastic teams at the two high schools.

The report made it clear that the school’s current booster-club system wasn’t working, said Jaimey Caron, a school board member.

“We were going down the wrong path,” Caron said. “We need to change.”

Under the old policy, booster clubs had no uniform way to report financial information. Some clubs would submit detailed financial statements, the report said, but others would submit minimal information or nothing at all.

No one in the district’s central office held the clubs to a higher standard, Caron said.

Consequently, officials struggled to determine how booster clubs spent their money and whether the district was in compliance with Title IX, a federal law that prohibits discrimination in athletics based on sex.

The report said no major non-compliance issues were found, but that the district must change its habits.

Under the proposed policy, a new administrator at each school would supervise the booster club and all athletic and extracurricular activities. By having only one booster club overseen by an administrator, each school can ensure that finances are in order and there’s accountability, Caron said.

Sarah Thompson, another school board member, said the board plans to get public feedback on the plan. “Nothing is written in stone,” she said.

School officials said one booster club at each school would make funding for each sport more equitable. As of now, some sports – such as football – can raise $50,000 or $75,000 a year, while other sports can only raise a few hundred dollars, Caron said.

And if the baseball team, hypothetically, got a fancy year-end banquet or top-notch facilities while the softball team didn’t because of inequitable funding, that may violate Title IX laws.

As part of the policy change, all proceeds from fundraising would go into one pot. Individual sports would then make requests to a board of directors, which would dole the money out more fairly, Thompson said.

School officials said that change would undoubtedly make some coaches and parents unhappy. But it ultimately would help make all the district’s programs more sustainable, officials said.

Many of the programs already help each other out, said Beth Arsenault, Portland High’s field hockey coach.

For instance, both football and her field-hockey program do very well financially, and in the past have given money to the cross-country teams, which have struggled to raise funds.

“This policy just makes it official that we will continue to do that in the future,” she said.

The policy change also would help eliminate possible accusations of wrongdoing, Arsenault said. With the current lack of bookkeeping and policies on how to store and deposit money from fundraising, coaches and boosters could steal money – or be accused of stealing money – and it would be difficult to prove guilt or innocence, she said.

The proposed policy also would establish a nonprofit foundation that would seek larger donations for extracurricular activities to supplement taxpayer dollars.

With shrinking budgets, sports and extracurricular activities are always on the chopping block, school officials said. But a foundation – which would have a proposed goal of raising $400,000 per year by 2015 – could ease the taxpayers’ burden.

The district would hire someone to run such a foundation. How it would pay for that position must still be discussed, Caron said.

The board will likely begin discussing the policy change at next Tuesday’s meeting.

 

Staff Writer Jason Singer can be contacted at 791-6437 or at: [email protected]