High School Officials Optimistic About Funding for Athletics

Times Staff Writer

After nearly a decade of dire predictions and threats, education officials are expressing guarded optimism about the funding of high school athletics.

"I sense a turn to the positive," CIF Southern Section Commissioner Ray Plutko said. "Funding for athletics has gotten better."

Evidence, while not pervasive, is accumulating.

For the first time in two decades, all 49 high schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District balanced their athletic budgets last year. "Budgets for extracurricular activities are finally stabilizing," said Paul Godfrey, senior high school administrator for the district. "It is encouraging."

Funding from private sources to the Southern Section has increased. Corporate help, which was virtually nonexistent in 1981, totaled $125,000 this year, according to Plutko.

While the fortunes of individual schools differ, several of them are flourishing. Some examples:

After 14 years of attempting to raise enough money, Newbury Park High will have lights in its stadium. The lights will shine over a game for the first time on Nov. 8, according to Assistant Principal James Robillard, when the Panthers take on Westlake. "We raised $214,000 in four years," said Newbury Park booster Sharon Peterson. "It will be a first-class facility."

The booster club at Birmingham, called the Dad's Club, raised $50,000 last year, according to club president Neil Altman. Lou Ramirez, administrator for athletics at Birmingham, said: "Our booster club is second to none."

The Conejo Valley Little League donated nearly $20,000 for fencing and dugout repairs at Thousand Oaks High last year. In addition, $53,000 for new infields and sprinkler systems at all three baseball fields has been raised, according to Jerry Lang, spokesman for the Thousand Oaks Baseball Boosters. The city of Thousand Oaks matched booster and Conejo Valley Unified School District funds for the project, which will be completed by the spring of 1987. "The donation from the little league sparked interest in upgrading all baseball facilities," Lang said.

Beyond the success of booster clubs, officials attribute their optimism to an increase in state funds for schools since a major school-reform measure, Senate Bill 813, passed last year. For the second straight year, the state budget contains a 6% increase in funding for education.

Schools are in their best financial position in 10 years, said John Duncan, president of the Assn. of California School Administrators and superintendent of the Simi Valley Unified School District. "Many districts will do quite well."

While no state funding is tied directly to athletics, increases in the general funds of districts should mean renewed stability in all areas of public education, according to Duncan.

Statements like Duncan's have not been heard from school administrators in many years.

Since Proposition 13 took effect in 1978, districts annually have threatened cuts in coaching staffs and the maintenance of athletic facilities.

"When money is tight, districts historically have looked to extracurricular activities like athletics for cuts before trimming academic areas," Duncan said.

In 1980, the state Department of Education drafted regulations in compliance with Title IX, a federal law that went into effect in 1975. The law stipulates that public schools must provide separate teams for boys and girls in sports in which team selection is based on competitive skill. While the increased opportunities for girls have unquestionably been positive, they further strained athletic resources.

Girls athletics produce no revenue, according to Godfrey, because admission is not charged to spectators attending their events. Only boys football and basketball make a profit. All girls sports and all other boys sports, including baseball, are operated at a loss.

At the height of the financial squeeze, the Southern Section turned to the private sector to supplement its budget. The Southern Section has had a full-time marketing and promotions director on its five-person staff since 1981.

"The Southern Section office has been very successful at securing donations from major corporate entities," Plutko said. "Our member schools have had varied success. It is much easier to approach a large company on behalf of nearly 500 schools."

Wilson, Spotbilt, Puma and Ford are a few of the larger sponsors. Ford, for example, underwrites all of the Southern Section's football championships.

Workshops on strategies for fund-raising and soliciting private donations are sponsored yearly by the Southern Section. A major workshop was held Monday at the Anaheim Convention Center. Plutko said that about 600 school officials attended.

"We have only seen the tip of the iceberg in terms of working with the private sector," Plutko claimed.

The Los Angeles school district, which has an athletic office staff of three administrators to oversee its 49 schools, does not seek corporate support for athletic programs.

"If we had the staff and the time, we could get the private sector to help," said Jim Cheffers, director of City Section athletics.

The Community Action Team for a Stadium at Newbury Park did not rely on corporate support for lights for its athletic stadium, but it was helped by Thousand Oaks lawmakers. After boosters raised about $100,000, the city matched the funds, giving the school enough money to proceed with the project.

"We noticed in the newspaper how hard the boosters worked to get lights," Thousand Oaks Mayor Larry Horner said. "The stadium at Thousand Oaks High is overused. The decision benefited the entire community."

Thousand Oaks, Westlake and Newbury Park high schools currently use Lancer Stadium for football games. The new lights at Newbury Park should help to alleviate the problem.

Altman, president of the Dad's Club at Birmingham, said the organization raised enough not only to balance the extracurricular activity budget, but to provide the campus with extra security personnel and a library security system.

"Our sons have graduated from Birmingham," Altman said. "My wife and I remain involved because we get the same feeling people get working for any volunteer organization. It's a labor of love."

Student and booster support often is related to the success of a school's athletic teams, according to Jerry Kleinman, the administrator for athletics at Polytechnic in Sun Valley.

"If you have winning teams," he said, "you will have more involvement from the community and students."

Richard Kunes, the administrator for athletics at North Hollywood, cautioned against painting too rosy a picture.

"Sure, things are getting better," he said. "But it is a matter of degree. We barely break even and I consider our booster club excellent. A lot has to do with the economics of the attendance area of the school."

Coaches' salaries, transportation costs and money for the construction and maintenance of facilities come primarily from the general fund of each district and are not included in the athletic budget.

The athletic budget at a typical high school is about $35,000 and pays for equipment, supplies, game officials and a team physician. Revenue from athletic events cover about half the budget, leaving $15,000 to $20,000 to be raised by students and booster clubs.

General fund money for the City Section is more uniform than for the Southern Section because all 49 city schools belong to the Los Angeles Unified School District. The Southern Section, which includes 446 schools, must rely on the financial health of about 60 school districts. Staffing and facilities maintenance therefore differs, according to Plutko.

The Los Angeles district tabled an item in its 1985-86 budget that would have provided $6,000 per school for athletics, Godfrey said. The money would have given schools a head start in covering expenses. The item will be reconsidered by the board by July.

"A year ago, 48% of the city schools came in with budgets in the red," Godfrey said. "This year, all budgets were balanced, but not without some difficulty. If each school gets $6,000 from the board of education, we would be looking at a healthy financial picture."

Cheffers said: "That the board would even consider an expenditure of general funds for athletics is a sign that things have gotten better financially."

Despite their optimism, officials insist that there is no guarantee for long-term financial stability.

"Raising funds is a constant battle," Godfrey said. "We begin from point zero every year, roll up our sleeves and get to work. Because we aren't sinking this year is no reason to sit back and enjoy the prosperity. If that happens, we will sink next year."

Plutko agreed: "Coming up with sufficient funds requires innovative thinking and hard work. It is a nonstop effort."

Despite the work involved, officials, boosters and students all appear to believe that high school sports are valuable.

"I don't know of a single administrator who isn't supportive of athletics as an integral part of education," Duncan said. "Athletics are important to leadership training and understanding human relationships. Values such as working together, cooperating, and peer and personal discipline are obvious benefits."

Said Plutko: "There are few, if any, activities that impart the life-long discipline and patterns of living that athletics can."

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