Results of a financial analysis of Gunnison Watershed RE1J School District athletics may be just the ticket to adding two new high school sports. Still, the analysis reveals some catch-up is needed for existing programs.
The report, provided to School Board Monday by RE1J Superintendent Leslie Nichols, comes following requests in recent years by parents and organizers for the district to add two new sports — soccer in Gunnison and lacrosse.
Earlier this year, soccer proponents asked district leaders to offer a high school team at the south end of the valley in addition to the high school team based in Crested Butte. While Gunnison boys can play soccer in Crested Butte, proponents say the addition of a Gunnison team would benefit the Latino community, which makes up a significant portion of club soccer teams in Gunnison.
Lacrosse supporters also have pitched their sport to RE1J leaders. The program has been growing in numbers at the club level. However, when students reach the high school level, they can no longer compete locally unless they are a part of a school-sanctioned team.
At the same time, the district estimates current sports are underfunded by about $25,000 annually, and that additional programs could be added for about $17,000 each annually. Overall, athletics currently makes up 1.5 percent of RE1J’s general fund budget.
Nichols said determining the budget for school athletics is just the beginning of the process in considering new sports.
“That is step one — can we afford $17,000 for a boys soccer program, can we afford $17,000 for a boys lacrosse program?” she posed. “Maybe. It’s about priorities and budgeting it in … It’s on the list for early 2021 budget work which we’re already engaged in.”
Start-up costs, she said, may have to be borne by parents and clubs if RE1J does add lacrosse and soccer in Gunnison.
From staff time to Title IX
But adding a new program is not based solely on finances, Nichols said. Sustainable interest — demonstrated by club support or a “feeder” program — as well as facilities, impact on existing sports, expenditure of staff time and Title IX regulations must also be considered.
Title IX law states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
Nichols said the law doesn’t necessarily mean the district will need to add an additional girls sport. Rather, the requirement can be met if participation by girls in athletics is proportionate to their enrollment. An annual survey would be performed to determine compliance.
“If we were no longer meeting demand, we would have to be ready very quickly to remedy that by offering another (girls) program,” Nichols said. “The other option is to increase the participation of the existing girls sports that we already have to reflect the proportion of boys and girls enrolled in each school.”
Nichols said participation among boys in Gunnison is already higher proportionately than boys enrollment, so adding another boys sport at Gunnison High School (GHS) could potentially trigger Title IX adjustments.
“It’s really gray,” she continued. “We could fix things over time and respond to changing needs.”
Regarding underfunding of current programs, Nichols detailed athletic expenses that should be covered by the district for a sanctioned sport — including coaches’ wages, essential equipment, travel, uniforms and postseason expenses. However, Nichols noted there have been financial concerns when a team excels athletically during regular season and enters postseason play.
“If coaches had success of getting their teams past regular season, it was almost a crisis,” said Nichols. “It should be a celebration, not a burden.”
She attributed the current athletic budget to a historical formula based on pupil enrollment, which she said would be addressed in the next fiscal year. Uniforms, she said, would be a priority, and coaches have been asked to develop five-year equipment replacement plans.
Nichols told School Board that she did not need its approval to add sports, but she wanted the board’s input before making decisions.
A ‘tricky’ decision
Board member Tyler Martineau asked Nichols if she favored adding one sport over the other.
She said such a move would be “tricky” because she was unsure of how to justify the decision. Nichols also said modifications could be made to the Crested Butte soccer program to accommodate Gunnison players. Therefore, just lacrosse could be added.
Board member Dave Taylor suggested soccer be added and lacrosse be deferred until it is determined if any existing programs could be eliminated. Still, Nichols noted several GHS students last year traveled to Montrose to participate in that community’s high school lacrosse program.
She also suggested the two programs could be added on a probationary basis with parents absorbing some of the cost.
“I believe … we take care of (existing) needs in our budget this year. Hopefully there’s enough in our budget to do a little bit more,” said board member LeeAnn Mick, noting that funding existing programs was more of a priority than adding new sports. “This is critical.”
Board member Courtney Fullmer agreed with Mick, and board members generally agreed that sports add to a student’s well-being by fostering good physical health, engagement with school and a general sense of belonging.
Nichols said she will consult further about the decision with the board during their special meeting scheduled for Dec. 13.
(Chris Rourke can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)