September 14, 2011

Portland booster clubs will soon be all on same team

The school board votes to have just one group at each high school to improve oversight and avoid inequities in sports.

By Jason Singer jsinger@pressherald.com
Assistant City Editor / Online

PORTLAND — With no opposition from community members, Portland's school board unanimously approved a much-debated policy Tuesday night to eliminate individual booster clubs for each high school sport and extracurricular activity.

Deering High School and Portland High School will now have just one booster club each, starting sometime next year.

The policy will help eliminate inequities between girls' and boys' sports and avoid any future Title IX violations, board members said. And having one booster club overseen by each central office will help the school district track and distribute the money that goes into all extracurricular programs, giving more equality to all students and programs.

Ari Hymoff, Deering High's student representative on the school board and a member of Deering's hockey team, said he initially was skeptical about the booster club proposal.

"I've come to realize, though, that's it for the greater good of my school," he said before voting to approve it. "It eliminates the petty competition between teams like men's and women's hockey, and it will help get money to all the programs."

The policy change is a response to potential violations of Title IX, the federal law that prohibits gender discrimination in athletics. Last year, the school district's law firm, Drummond Woodsum, issued a report criticizing shoddy bookkeeping and possible gender inequities in sports at Portland high schools.

Although the district is likely in compliance with Title IX, it is difficult to know because the district has kept such poor financial records on its booster clubs, the report said. Some booster clubs submit detailed financial reports, while others submit little or no information.

That made it difficult for school officials to know how much money was being spent by each team, what that money was being spent on, and whether there were inequities.

School board members whose children attended the high schools said they saw inequities in opportunities between girls' and boys' sports, in part because of funding from booster clubs. Once a booster club contributes money to a school team, it becomes public money and the school is liable for it in terms of Title IX, said board member Sarah Thompson.

The specifics of the policy won't be introduced or approved before December.

Superintendent Jim Morse said that to foster community support, he will let a group of parents and other residents write a draft of the policy's bylaws by December. He will then present a final proposal of bylaws to the school board by Jan. 30.

It wasn't clear Tuesday night who would help to draft the bylaws and procedures. But residents did present interesting ideas during the five public meetings held on the subject this summer, Morse said.

One idea was to let teams and clubs keep 25 percent of the money they raise, and put 75 percent in the large booster pot at each school. That may help ease concerns that parents would stop fundraising if they didn't know for sure that at least some of the money would go to their children's activities.

"They came up with pretty inventive ways of looking at (the booster topic)," Morse said of residents who attended the meetings.

The new policy will establish a nonprofit foundation that will seek larger donations for extracurricular activities to supplement tax dollars.

With shrinking budgets, sports and other extracurricular activities are always "on the chopping block," said board member Marnie Morrione. But a foundation, which has a proposed goal of raising $400,000 per year by 2014, could help ease the taxpayers' burden and make the programs "more sustainable," said board member Jaimey Caron.

The district has cut $200,000, about 10 percent, from its sports budget in the past two years, Caron said. In addition, it has lost about 20 percent of its extracurricular programs over the past five years because of the budget crunch, Morse said.

That should not happen, board members said, because studies show that students who participate in extracurriculars have grade-point averages about 1 point higher than those who don't.

"This is something important to kids," board member Justin Costa said before voting to approve the policy. "We don't just have sports for the sake of sports; it's something that matters."

 

Staff Writer Jason Singer can be contacted at 791-6437 or at: jsinger@pressherald.com

 

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