The budget cuts hitting activities in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District next year, which could result in fees for sports such as football being raised from $100 to $150, are so immense and complex they took over two hours to lay out Thursday at the Borough Building in Soldotna.
In the budget for the 2000-01 school year already approved by the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly and the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board, activities money will be cut by about $250,000.
That's a decrease of about 20 percent and it would put next year's budget at a little more than $1.1 million.
In the 1980s, the cocurricular budget was in excess of $3 million and students received meal money for road trips. Because the latest round of cuts was particularly hard on travel, students may have to pay to take some road trips next year.
"Obviously, things have come 180 degrees from there," said Dale Sandahl, a former district superintendent, of the difference between the '80s and now. "We're facing a real problem.
"Most people don't think we're going to come up with a solution."
The team's task
Sandahl's comments came Thursday at the Borough Building in Soldotna to the 10 members of the Student Activities Task Force.
Normally, the Kenai Peninsula Schools Activities Association makes recommendations and charts the course for student activities. However, Donna Peterson, the district superintendent, formed the task force because, according to a memo, "the sheer size of budget reductions require all to look at how we could do business differently."
The team charged with gaining victory over the budget problem is made up of two high school principals, two school board members, two members of the borough assembly, two district administrators and two appointed by Dale Bagley, the mayor of the borough.
The team's coach, or facilitator, is Sandahl, who has been on the peninsula and involved in activities and the school district since 1968.
His opening remarks at Thursday's meeting made it sound as if he was preparing his team to face the '96 Bulls, the '73 Dolphins or the '27 Yankees.
"Everybody said, 'You've got to be nuts. You'll be lucky if anything comes out of this,'" said Sandahl, who could have been playing golf in the Lower 48 Thursday but instead came back to go to the dentist's office in the morning and facilitate the meeting in the afternoon.
"Nobody expects anything, so anything we come up with is better than anything anybody expected."
The clock runs out on the group May 8, when Peterson wants recommendations. There are two other tentatively scheduled meetings before then at the Borough Building -- Thursday from 2 to 4 p.m. and May 4 from 2 to 4 p.m.
Thursday's meeting, played out before about 12 members of the public, was spent not on solutions, but on laying out the problem.
The mission of the task force is twofold. The group must find solutions to the budget crunch faced next year and find a long-term solution to the problem of funding activities -- a problem that most say is only going to get worse.
Next year's proposed cuts
In late January 2000, KPSAA met and came up with a plan to slice the required amount from the budget for next year. If the task force does not come up with its own plan, KPSAA's cutting plan will be executed.
The following is KPSAA's plan:
n Increase participation fees by 50 percent at the high schools and middle schools -- $109,000.
For the high schools, this would mean basketball, wrestling, volleyball, football, swimming, cross-country skiing and hockey would go from $100 to $150; and track, cross country and soccer would go from $65 to $100. The $350 cap on the amount a family can pay also would be eliminated.
The increase in participation fees is expected to offset cuts being made to the travel budgets at the middle schools and high schools.
For instance, Kenai Central received $26,206 for travel from the district this year. Next year, that number will drop to $8,761.
"I can tell you that if (Kenai Central principal Sam Stewart) had to rely on that, he'd be out of money before Christmastime," said Dave Spence, the KPSAA executive secretary.
KPSAA President Rick Ladd said projecting how much money the increased participation fees will raise is difficult because participation will decline and requests for waivers will increase.
The fee increase is expected to net $85,000 at high schools and $24,000 at middle schools. This assumes about 20 percent of the fees won't be collected because of reduced participation and waivers.
"This is a real soft figure, and I think it's probably the worst figure in this whole (KPSAA) recommendation," Ladd said.
It will be up to the individual schools to make sure the activity fees make up for lost travel dollars.
"It puts a real crunch on schools being able to put gas in the bus," Spence said.
Spence added that it would not be out of the question, if funds really dry up, to have to send a parental consent form home with a kid saying $15 is needed if the bus is going to roll to that weekend's event.
n Eliminate elementary programs -- $24,000.
This cut will be made mainly by getting rid of stipends paid to those who run the programs. Right now, 56 stipends of $368 go to elementary schools to organize intramural sports like basketball and soccer.
"That's a shame," Spence said. "Elementary schools have to get out there and fund raise and find ways to carry on and pay for their programs."
Ladd said the larger elementary schools should be able to make up for this cut by raising the amount of money it takes to play the sport.
"The issue is what's going to happen to smaller schools that don't have that large of a student body," Ladd said.
n Eliminate state travel -- $50,000.
By no longer reimbursing the high schools when a team must travel to a state meet, the district will save $50,000. In the past, a pot of money was set aside for state-qualifying schools to draw from throughout the year.
"The school district used to reimburse state travel 100 percent," Spence said. "Now they reimburse it 75 percent. Next year, there will be no reimbursement for state travel."
Seward Junior-Senior High School Principal Malcolm Fleming, a member of the task force, summed up the odd position this cut puts administrators in.
"It wouldn't be a good feeling to come out of regions and say, 'Yes, we lost,'" Fleming said.
n Eliminate borough tournaments -- $20,000.
Currently, high school and middle school teams gather in sports like cross country, cross-country skiing and track for a borough tournament. In middle schools, this is the last tournament of the year.
Getting rid of the borough tournaments will mean the district doesn't have to pay for trophies and getting kids to a central location.
n Eliminate C team stipends -- $15,000.
Currently, Spence said the only stipend the district gives to the high schools for C teams is in basketball. C teams for sports such as football and volleyball are supported at each school without help from the district.
"I don't in any way, shape or form anticipate this as being the death and demise of C teams at schools," Spence said.
n Eliminate annual stipends -- $15,000.
These are the stipends paid to advisers who help put together the yearbook.
"Those are some of the hardest-working people out of all of them," Sandahl said. "Those yearbooks take a tremendous amount of work."
n Reducing activity bus transportation -- $24,000.
The big picture
Ladd said it is important to put this year's cut in the context of what has happened to the cocurricular budget in the past two decades. While the budget has gone from more than $3 million in the 1980s to next year's $1.1 million, cocurricular activities in the district have grown with new schools and the inclusion of new activities.
The activities budget has been boiled down to such essentials as stipends for coaches and transportation, and this year even transportation took a big hit.
Booster clubs, fund-raising and increased participation fees have made up for some of the cuts, but several at the meeting questioned how much more those areas can provide.
Next year's cuts will come in a variety of areas, but the bottom line is they add up to more than $250,000.
"We feel $100 is pretty close to the point where parents can't fund much more," Ladd said.
Jim Newby, a parent of one Soldotna High School graduate and three students at SoHi, attended Thursday's meeting and said he has noticed increased pressure on the parents throughout the years.
"I think the businesses are getting tapped out," Newby said. "I walked in to get my car repaired, and it was, 'What sport is it now, Jim?'
"When I go places, they don't even think I'm there to give them my business. They think I'm there to ask for money for sports."
Stewart, the principal at Kenai Central and a task force member, said a common theme in this year's cuts is making the schools figure out how to make ends meet -- whether it be for travel, C teams or producing a yearbook.
"It's just left to the schools to do these things," Stewart said. "It's going to be real tough to do that."
What's more, the decreased funding activities are receiving from the school district will not change anytime soon.
"What we've received from the school district is that over the next couple of years, the situation is going to get worse, not better," said Jeff Sinz, the borough finance director and a task force member.
Thus, after the task force figures out what to do for next year, it faces the even more daunting task of finding a fix that will work long into the future.
Possibilities mentioned Thursday included the politically charged move of dropping sports and having the borough fund activities outside the cap that state law puts on the amount of money the borough can give the school district.
"We're just getting started," said Dr. Nels Anderson, a school board and task force member. "We haven't even come to the tough part yet.
"There's the 2000-01 school year, but then we have to figure out what to do after that."
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