Daily Sitka Sentinel

Sitka High Looks for Ways to Fund Activities

    A local committee is looking for a sustainable way to fund sports and activities at Sitka High, and wants to form a nonprofit organization that would accept donations from the community.
    Sitka High activities director Mike Vieira told the Chamber of Commerce Wednesday that it costs in the neighborhood of $520,000 a year to run the various sports and other activities at SHS, including programs like drama and debate, music, mock trial and theatre.    
    Vieira and other committee members, including School Board member Tim Fulton, are trying develop a steady revenue stream for SHS teams, something that might lessen the load on local businesses and allow the high school to lower player participation fees.
    The big ticket item for SHS activities is travel. Vieira said “getting off the island” cost the various Sitka teams close to $400,000 in the 2010-11 school year.
    In a typical year, an estimated 66 percent of that amount comes student fees and fundraising efforts in the community.
    The activities budget at SHS is expected to be cut $50,000 when the School Board finalizes its budget for the 2012-13 school year.  Another $111,000 (this figure includes Blatchley Middle School and Pacific High) for coaching stipends across the district were recently floated as a potential money-saving budget cut to help close a $340,000 shortfall.
    School Board President Lon Garrison has suggested during recent school budget deliberations that funding for core academic programs will take precedent over sports and activities if push comes to shove and the district is forced to make difficult budget decisions.
    And with budgets expected to tighten in coming years, the activities funding committee has been meeting monthly to try and figure out how to develop a stable funding source for activities outside of the district’s general fund.    
    Tim Fulton, who accompanied Vieira at the Chamber luncheon Wednesday, said the committee was moving forward with the formation of a nonprofit that will support SHS activities.
    Vieira said Wednesday that almost all of the school district’s budget line item for activities, which was about $169,000 for the current school year, goes toward travel.
    The district also provides $87,000 a year for coaching stipends and $15,00 for equipment.
    Participation fees range from about $150 for a sport like cross country where most of the travel during the short season is on the ferry, to about $700 for drama and debate, Vieira said.
    Teams that play in the fall or spring,  when the summer ferry schedule is available for at least part of the season, can save upwards of $25,000 by riding the ferry each weekend for games, rather than flying, Vieira said.
    The participation fees are not capped for families with more than one student at SHS. The school has a scholarship fund to help students cover participation fees, but Fulton said some may be reluctant to use it.
    Vieira estimated that he gave out about $2,500 in scholarships during the 2010-11 school year.
    Vieira said the goal is to get 100 percent of the students of Sitka High to participate in at least one activity. Participation in sports, or other activities, can sometimes be the driving force for a student staying in school, local educators have said.
    Vieira said that in 2010-11, 249 students participated in an activity, or about 73 percent of the school’s estimated 340 students.
    Vieira began the meeting by listing off some of the recent accomplishments by Sitka High teams, which have included state wins by mock trial and drama and debate teams and regional crowns in cross country, swimming and basketball.
    “It’s not easy, a lot of work goes into making these things happen,” he said.
    Fulton said the committee had not been able to come up with an idea for how to fund activities and would take a first step with the formation of a nonprofit. He said he felt strongly that the solution should be “community-based.”
    The committee has previously tossed around the idea of trying to push for a targeted tax increase that would fund recreation, including SHS activities, but no formal proposal has yet to emerge.
    Eric Jordan, listening from the audience Wednesday, said the community was getting good “bang for our buck” with the money spent on activities.
    “There’s something really special going on in Sitka,” he said, adding that sports and other activities helped keep kids in school.
    Two suggestions for raising money came from the audience Wednesday.
    Fred Reeder, a former School Board president, suggested a “round up” program, where Sitkans visiting local stores could “round up” the cost of their purchases, with the extra money going to SHS program. He said a similar program brings in thousands of dollars a year in Kodiak. As an example, a customer whose bill was $24.53 could elect to pay $25 and the schools would get the balance.
    Gerry Hope, president of the Chamber of Commerce, said Sitka High should host an awards banquet to honor students, like those on the basketball teams, with ticket sales and donations benefitting SHS programs.

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