By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The Havre school board voted unanimously Tuesday night to allow two high school sports teams - boys cross country and girls fast-pitch softball - to play under the district's banner while being financed entirely through private donations.
Although HPS Superintendent Kirk Miller recommended the board approve the teams' requests, he cautioned that their adoption will pave the way for similar requests.
"This opens the door for any number of activities to come before the board," he said, adding that at some point people may question the fairness of some sports having to raise their own money.
Miller also told the board he was concerned about people's willingness to support mill levies if the district added the sports.
"There is a perception in our community that we spend too much money on athletics," he said. " There will be people in our community who don't care where the money comes from."
He added, "I don't want to go to the senior center and ask for a mill levy next year and have people say, 'No, because you were stupid enough to add boys cross country and girls softball in a time of declining budgets.'"
The vote means the two teams will be sanctioned by the Montana High School Association for the 2004-2005 school year. Both teams previously operated as club sports and could could not wear Blue Pony uniforms, use district transportation or participate in year-end tournaments.
The teams unsuccessfully attempted in May to have the school board adopt the teams. School board members denied the requests, saying the district could not afford to support two new extracurricular activities.
Proponents of the two teams regrouped and worked with district administrators to develop a plan that would give the teams the district's affiliation while using none of the district's money.
Part of that plan required the two teams to generate enough money in pledges to cover the estimated cost of running the teams for three years. District officials estimated those costs to be $65,000 for fast-pitch softball and $10,500 for cross country.
The two teams raised the pledges in less than six weeks.
The adoption of the teams means that the district will manage them like any other sport. The district will be responsible for hiring coaches and establishing schedules.
The plan approved by the school board calls for both teams to pay the district in advance for each year.
"If they don't have the money in their bank account for the next year, there will be no activity for that year," Miller told the board before the vote.
Miller addressed the board immediately after cross country coach Ron Watson and Havre Girls Fast Pitch Association president Mike Evans made presentations to the school board.
"The question before you is of great import," Miller said. "How can Havre Public Schools develop a system of privatization that actually works? I believe our team has looked at the issues closely enough where I feel confidant tonight recommending this to you. If the board wants to do this, be guaranteed it will be done the right way."
He said one of the biggest issues is ensuring the sustainability of the programs.
"Our research has shown that other programs have fallen short because of one word - energy," he said, adding that the cross country and fast-pitch softball teams appear to have the energy required to make the adoption work.
Watson said the cross country team exceeded its goal of $10,500, and raised nearly $13,000 in pledges, while Evans said the softball team has collected 127 pledges totaling more than $68,000.
Pledges are still coming in and the team expects to generate revenue during the season, Evans said. That may include grant money, gate receipts, concession sales and sharing income from sign sponsors at Sixth Avenue Memorial Field, he added.
"We feel that we have come up with a plan that will work for all involved," Evans said.
The Havre Girls Fast Pitch Association has an agreement with the Sixth Avenue Softball Association to lease Sixth Avenue Memorial Field for $1 a year and a $300 annual maintenance fee.
Board members, administrators and audience members discussed the pros and cons of adding the two sports for more than an hour before the issue went to a vote.
Board member Kathie Newell said she had several concerns, including the sustainability of energy and funding, and the perception of inequity because some sports would receive tax dollars and others would not.
"Are we opening Pandora's box on a level we did not consider?" she asked.
Newell also said she saw a number of positive things about the adoption of the two sports.
The unanimous vote drew a burst of applause from the audience, which included dozens of players and their parents.
The success of the adoption effort by the boys cross country team was contingent on that of girls softball. Because of federal Title IX and state Ridgeway Agreement gender-equity requirements, the school board could only approve a new boys sport if it also approved one for girls.
Title IX requires that schools have at least as many athletic programs for girls as for boys. To comply with that provision, in 1986 the school district was forced to either adopt a new girls sports or abandon an existing boys sport. Because there were no proposed additional girls sports at the time, the school board opted to discontinue boys cross country. The team was resurrected in 1999 as a club sport.