IRVINE : Schools, City Consider Fee-Based Athletics

The Irvine Unified School District and the city may join forces to create a fee-based, athletics program to shield sports from impending school district budget cuts.

The City Council tonight will vote on establishing an exploratory committee of city and school district representatives.

School district officials said it is premature to predict how much money the plan could save, but the district spends roughly $1 million a year on sports programs at its three high schools.

Irvine Unified already offers driver's training classes and child care services in conjunction with the city. Unlike public school districts, a joint powers authority can charge fees to make programs self-supporting.

"This would essentially remove athletics from the school district's budget," said Councilman Greg Smith, a former Irvine school board member. "This would give them the opportunity for a little breathing space."

School board members are considering $3 million in cuts from next school year's $100-million budget, causing notices of potential layoffs to be sent to 30 administrators and 120 temporary teachers.

School board President Tom Burnham said the city and school district will consider additional joint operations, which could cover playing field maintenance and recreational programs.

"It's a unique opportunity," Burnham said, "because the school district's boundaries are almost contiguous with the city."

Most school district programs that are not legally required are at risk because of a potential $10.7-million loss to the district from the county bankruptcy, according to school board member Margie Wakeham.

"We all see the value of athletics," Wakeham said. "If athletics go away, there would be a lot of kids with nothing to do."

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