After years of scrambling to raise money to support extracurricular programs, the struggle will likely get worse next year.
Payson High athletic director Don Heizer said the Payson Unified School District plans to cut all funding for athletics beginning in the 2014-15 school year.
Most extracurricular programs already rely heavily on donations, fund-raisers and money received through the Credit for Kids tax write-off program. But next year the district may not provide even stipends for faculty advisers and coaches or transportation money.
“Next year the high school athletic department is going to be required by the board to be completely self-sufficient financially,” Heizer said. “This is the first time we’ve been charged with the responsibility of funding our programs 100 percent out of athletic income streams. And our goal is going to be to raise $100,000. It’s a task we’re going to have to take on.”
Heizer said the teams face a huge challenge because in the 2012-13 school year the cost of the sports programs was about $130,000 more than the PHS athletic programs raised.
“Our hard costs for (coaching) stipends, for transportation, for officials, for event management staff, which includes people taking tickets and doing all those kinds of things, and AIA (Arizona Interscholastic Association) dues was approximately $230,000,” Heizer said. “Last year, our sports fees, the money raised through Credit for Kids or gifts and donations and our gates for our sporting events totaled just under $100,000. We need to make up that difference.”
In other words, the programs need to raise more than double what they raised last school year even if costs don’t increase.
“I don’t want this to sound like Henny Penny the sky is falling,” Heizer said. “It’s just where we find ourselves in high school athletics. We’re not the only community facing these kinds of issues.”
Heizer declined to speculate on what the district will do if fund-raising efforts fall short.
Several possibilities exist:
• Increase participation fees from the current maximum of $250 per athlete or $400 per family.
• Increase ticket prices
• Cut or eliminate coaching stipends
• Eliminate some programs.
Booster club fund-raisers and the tax-deductible Credit for Kids program have long played a crucial role in financing PHS athletic programs.
“The benevolence of our public is going to be basically the determining factor of whether we can maintain our programs next year or possibly begin cutting programs due to a lack of funds to support,” Heizer said. “We’re getting ready to start a major campaign to encourage people to donate to the Payson High School Athletic Department Credit for Kids program.”
Any Credit for Kids donations made before Dec. 31 will come off of the 2013 income taxes.
“They can stop by the school and drop in their donations or mail in their donations and make sure they note that their Credit for Kids donation should be applied to Payson High Athletics, then we can use it for the benefit for all of our athletic programs rather than targeted programs.”
Heizer said he’s optimistic about raising the money needed. “One thing that I know about this community is that when there is a time of need they will step up.”
The district had previously paid for coaches’ stipends and transportation. This year, the district used federal Forest Fee money to cover coaches’ stipends this year. The district will no longer pay for transportation or anything else for the athletic programs beginning next fall.
Heizer said the district may not get Forest Fee money this year. So using the federal money this year gave the programs time to develop a plan for becoming self-supporting starting next fall.
“This year coaches’ stipends are being paid for out of Forest Fees with the idea of us being able to save enough money and raise enough money through fund-raising things to be able to pay for stipends and other expenses in future years,” Heizer said.
Heizer said he understands why this is happening.
“(The district) had helped to provide uniforms and such over the last few years,” he said. “But the reduction in funding for schools from the Legislature, a decrease in tax revenues and increases in costs in other areas has caused the district to reduce funding for our athletic programs.
“This is not because the district does not value our athletic programs. That needs to be made clear. The district and board does value our athletic programs.”
AG investigates use of donations
The Arizona Republic reported in October that the Arizona Attorney General’s Office is investigating whether Chandler Hamilton High School misused public donations that funded extracurricular activities for its marching band.
The investigation includes whether it’s legal for the school to use booster club funds to pay stipends for the school’s marching band director and overtime for custodians to clean the football stadium after games, the Republic reported.
The AG investigation into Chandler Hamilton is complicating the efforts of schools to raise money for sports programs.
At Payson High, the district this year has used federal Forest Fees to pay augmented coaches’ stipends this school year. But that is intended to be for this year only. The district has told coaches they’ll need to raise enough money from gate fees and donations to cover the full cost of the program, including coaches’ stipends.
The challenge to the Chandler High School program suggests such a use of donations may be illegal.
Payson Unified School District business manager Kathie Manning said she knows of no prohibition concerning the use of Credit for Kids donations to pay for coaches’ stipends. Manning said the district has used some of those funds to pay coaches’ stipends in the past, but not this year.
Former Roundup sports editor Max Foster has written stories indicating some of the same practices the AG’s office is investigating at Hamilton have been occurring at Payson High for years.
When contacted by the Roundup last month, Stephanie Grisham of the Arizona Attorney General’s Office said there was no open case against Payson High and had no further comment.