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Self-sustaining high school sports? Saline continues quest to cut district … – The Ann Arbor News

The Saline Area Schools Board of Education is continuing its pursuit of finding a way to make its athletic programs self-funded entities.

In the 2013-14 school year, about $618,500—or 1.19 percent—of the district’s $51 million general fund was used to pay for the athletic department’s $1.1 million in expenses.

The district has been scrutinizing its athletic department for some time.

In 2005 officials said they wanted to pursue a long-range goal of making the department more self-sufficient. In the 2011 budget cycle Saline also considered removing its general fund subsidy to athletics as part of a cost-cutting measure.

“I want to be clear: there’s no discussion here about cutting athletics. We want to maintain our high-quality athletic programs,” said school board president David Holden. “But in a world of limited resources, is there a way we can raise that gap that we’re paying for with our general fund—is there a way to raise that to free up that money in the budget?”

Tuesday night the Board of Education heard a report from district administrators on the sustainability of the athletic department.

“This is five-year stuff. If we’re going to take athletics completely off the books and make it self-sustaining, we’re going to put in a whole infrastructure to go out and raise the money,” Holden said. “First, we’re going to have to figure out if we can raise the money, because we already have been raising quite a lot.”

As Saline has implemented greater pay to participate fees for athletics, the district has been able to shift more of its athletic expenses to the fees and lessen the allocation from its general fund.

In 2009-10 about 16 percent of the athletic department’s funding was from pay to participate fees, 72 percent was from the general fund and 10 percent was from gate fees at events.

Those figures have gradually changed over the past five years: In 2013-14, about 32 percent of the athletic department’s revenue is from pay to participate fees, 56 percent is from the general fund and 12 percent is from gate fees at events.

Superintendent Scot Graden said coaching staff salaries are the biggest expenditure for Saline’s athletic department.

“We’re a people-driven structure,” Graden said.

The number of coaches paid with general fund dollars has remained the same for the past 10 years—but the number of coaches supported by fundraising dollars has increased, Graden said.

The district has been able to diversify its funding sources to a certain extent— especially through an additional $750,000 raised annually through fundraising into student activity accounts.

In 2011-12 a total of $55,991 of coaches’ salaries were paid through non-general fund sources.

About $302,241 was collected by just 21 varsity student activity accounts in 2011-12. Graden said that number has increased in more recent school years.

That total figure includes about $8,000 in concessions revenue from varsity football games. Those games make a total of $16,000 in profit, but half goes to the district’s music department. It’s the largest source of concessions revenue for Saline.

Saline also rents out its school athletic facilities to the tune of $70,000 per year through Saline Community Education.

The school district supports athletic programs in grades seven through 12, but does not financially support ice hockey and field hockey with general fund dollars.

Saline district officials have been leading a review of athletic department expenses for the past several months—which culminated in the presentation by Graden Tuesday night at a study session of the Board of Education in Saline.

The review netted some immediate recommendations. Graden said he believes the district should develop a line-item budget for each sport to show families how each athletic program is spending its money.

District officials should also be reviewing their fundraising policies to ensure that any fundraising events that athletic programs pursue be the most efficient to bring in the greatest return on investment, Graden said.

Better advertising guidelines are also needed to see if more athletic expenses can be paid for by ads, Graden said. The district brings in about $15,000 a year in ad revenue for its athletic programs.

Looming synthetic turf replacement costs on the district’s athletic fields had several school board members worried that the district wasn’t doing enough to target the right sector of the community for fundraising.

“Sports has done a great job of going out and raising money and I don’t think we want to discourage that,” Holden said. “But have we squeezed all the blood out of the rock?”

School board Vice President Craig Hoeft said he liked the idea of finding additional sources of ad revenue to fund sports programs.

“This community gives,” Hoeft said. “We hit everybody hard for money all the time. We should be finding new ways to get the money in.”

School board Secretary Todd Carter reminded the board that the district was about to enter union contract negotiations in February.

“I know we have contracts coming up … Is it a good use of our time to spend this amount of time on athletics when we need to be attacking bigger fish? I do believe this has value; that this will give us good information. I think there’s more important things that we could be digging into,” Carter said.

Carter said the district should be pursuing ways to pay for new turf fields and other facilities costs outside of using general fund dollars.

As Saline schools prepare to draft a budget for the next school year by June, Holden said the research conducted into the athletic department’s budget would help guide discussions.

“This is going to be a part of the whole budget discussion; where it falls out at the end of the day— we’ll see what the board equilibrium is on that,” Holden said. “I would say that the research phase is ended and we have all the information that we need.”

Holden said he didn’t anticipate talks of funding sources of bonds and taxes to be discussed in the next six months.

“However, we do have infrastructure that’s going to need replacement; whether it’s athletic fields, buses, roofs, HVAC systems—a lot of those things, we have put off. We’ve been able to balance our budget, we’ve done a pretty good job with the dollars that we have,” Holden said. “But moving forward, there are needs that are going to need to be addressed. And at some point, we’re going to have to take that to the community.”

Amy Biolchini is the K-12 education reporter for The Ann Arbor News. Reach her at amybiolchini@mlive.com, (734) 623-2552 or on Twitter. Find all Washtenaw County K-12 education stories on MLive.com.

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