Garfield schools work to make sports affordable
The start of a new school year comes with the cost of supplies including bookbags, pens, pencils and notebooks — and for parents whose children play sports, equipment such as cleats for football or soccer and new shoes for volleyball and cross country.
The costs can add up quickly, but Garfield County schools work to keep families from being overburdened.
In Re-2, success costs more — no money is budgeted for playoff trips.
In the Roaring Fork School District Re-1, the athletic fee is $100 per athlete, capped at $400 per family, whereas Garfield Re-2 and District 16 have a $75 athletic fee with a family cap of $350.
On top of that, some schools have an additional $100 refundable uniform deposit in hopes of keeping uniforms in good shape and getting them returned, keeping longer-term costs down.
Traditionally around the country, taxpayers fund athletic teams through school district taxes while booster clubs pick up the slack for additional charges, but formal boosters are rare at a majority of the high schools in Garfield County.
“What goes into the decision for the athletic fee is the overall cost of the sports we offer and the cost of transportation,” Glenwood Springs Athletic Director Craig Denney said. “The school board just kind of looks at those factors to determine what athletes’ parents should be paying. But we have a way for kids to lessen those costs just to play sports.”
In Re-1, if students qualify for the free and reduced lunch program the athletic fee is cut in half, while other times parents of children already paid can step in to help the less fortunate athletes play the sports that they want to. Re-2 has a similar approach.
Neither of the two larger school districts in the county will ever turn away a student from playing a sport because a family can’t afford the athletic fee. According to Roaring Fork High School AD Jade Bath, students can help cover the cost without actually paying the fee.
“At Roaring Fork, kids will have to help me work it off, in a sense,” Bath said. “We haven’t been as strict with that, but that usually entails helping set up fields before games or getting stuff ready for officials, but overall we’ll help kids and their families so that they can get on the field and play the sport.”
Overall, the athletic fees for both Re-1 and Re-2 cover transportation, equipment and hotel rooms, while also paying officials’ fees.
Where the districts differ is that Re-1 has a fund in place to cover all sports through the year, whereas in Re-2, the athletic fee goes into the district’s general fund. The school board determines how much each school gets for an athletic budget on a year-to-year basis.
That can create a pinch for the Re-2 schools if a large number of athletes go out for sports and the budget doesn’t reflect that.
Additionally, the athletic budget for Re-2 doesn’t cover playoff transportation for any of the sports, so coaches, parents, student athletes and the athletic director must find the money for teams to head to playoff games.
“One of the things the district decided on a few years ago was that they were no longer going to pay for teams that go on to the state playoffs,” Rifle AD Troy Phillips said. “We don’t have the money to go to the playoffs, but our principal has allotted a little bit of money that we can use for sports to help offset those costs, but it doesn’t cover all of it; it doesn’t even come close. What we have to do is fundraise and get donations from the community businesses and individuals to help cover those costs, as well as some help from our great booster club at Rifle.”
Rifle football traditionally is in the state playoffs nearly every year, while Grand Valley football made the playoffs last year. Coal Ridge sees quite a few teams make the state playoffs as well, so it’s a burden for everyone involved. The Colorado High School Activities Association reimburses schools for some of the costs.
At face value, it appears that Re-1 has a distinct advantage over Re-2 when it comes to funding for athletics, but the issue doesn’t start with the districts; it’s state legislators’ fault, according to Phillips.
“The state legislators keep cutting funding to schools, so schools only have so much money to work with to do the business that they do,” Phillips said. “So that means they can’t put unlimited amounts of money into athletics because that money goes elsewhere to more important things. Right now we just have to do what we do with athletics and hope that more funding comes through changes at the state level so that districts get more money to fund all the things that they’re doing.”
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