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BRAINERD SCHOOL BOARD: Cut in athletic fees recommended

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About one in three Brainerd High School athletes qualify for grants through Warrior Way Inc., administered through Brainerd Sports Boosters, to help pay for athletic participation fees.

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And participation in Warrior sports and activities is rebounding after fees were reduced last year following a dramatic fee hike in 2008 after about $5.5 million in district-wide budget cuts that followed the defeat of the 2007 Brainerd School District referendum.

Todd Selk, BHS activities director, presented a proposal to the school board Curriculum Committee Wednesday to reduce fees even further in an effort to gain more participants. 

The committee did not act on the proposal but board members are planning to address the transition out of using Warrior Way funds within the next three to four years as part of its long-range planning process by June 30.

Warrior Way funding, which began as a grassroots effort by about 12 individuals after the Brainerd School District’s operating levy referendum failed in 2007, has provided about $80,000 a year in financial support for BHS middle and high school students for the past three years.

The Warrior Way fund, administered through Brainerd Sports Boosters, will likely run out of money within the next three to four years, school officials have said. 

Eric Davidge, president of Brainerd Sports Boosters, said by the spring of 2008  Warrior Way Inc. had raised about $400,000, with about $100,000 in donation pledges that were committed during the next three years. He said this has raised a little more than $500,000 for Warrior Way grants in the last three years. The fund has paid out about $225,000 directly to the school district to help subsidize Warrior athletic and activity fees for students who qualified for the financial assistance. 

Davidge said Warrior Way is now a subcommittee of the Brainerd Sports Boosters and there is only one homecoming event sponsored each year to raise funds for Warrior Way. At this rate, the funds will likely run out within the next three to four years. 

Selk said when fees were reduced and placed on a three-tiered fee schedule last year, participation rose, particularly at the middle school level. 

Figures from the athletics department show BHS fall sports participation reached 446 students in the 2006-07 school year, dropped to a low of 387 athletes in 2008-09 and rebounded to 416 participants during the current year. Winter sports participation was 414 students in 2006-07, dropping to a low of 330 student athletes in 2009-10 and climbing to 345 athletes in 2010-11. Spring sports participation reached 421 students in 2006-07, dropping to a low of 338 students in 2008-09 before climbing to 379 students this spring. 

Middle level fall sports participation included 479 students in 2007-08, dropping to a low of 420 students in 2008-09, before growing to 483 students participating in 2010-11. Middle level winter sports participation was 65 students in 2007-08, remaining at 66 students and 67 students participating during the 2008-09 and 2010-11 school years as basketball became an in-house sport, but then increased dramatically to 308 students participating this school year. Middle level spring sports participation was at 309 students in 2007-08, dropping to a low of 241 students in 2008-09 before growing to an estimated 285 students participating this year. 

Selk said the athletics department is recommending no changes in middle and high school activity fees for next year. 

The proposal includes the following athletic fee reductions:

• BHS athletics Tier 1: Reduce the participation fee from $250 to $200, an estimated reduction in revenue of $15,750.

• BHS athletics Tier 2: Reduce the fee from $350 to $250, an estimated reduction in revenue of $54,900.

• BHS athletics Tier 3: Reduce the fee from $425 to $300, an estimated reduction in revenue of $28,750.

• Middle school athletics Tier 1: Reduce the fee from $100 to $75.

• Middle school athletics Tier 2: Reduce the fee from $150 to $125. Estimated reduction in revenue for Tiers 1 and 2 is $21,675.

Total estimated reduction in revenue from the proposed fee scale changes is $121,075.

The family fees cap also is proposed to be reduced from $1,500 to $900 per school year. Selk said there are a handful of families with multiple student athletes who meet that cap. 

Selk told board members that he strongly believes the district won’t lose participation. Selk said it’s up to the Warrior Way committee to decide whether to keep the existing fee assistance grid or reduce the amount of assistance if fees are reduced. This could be a way to stretch out those funds for a few more years, he said. 

While an increase in participation may help bring in more funds, the district likely will need to increase the athletic department budget if this proposal is adopted by the board to make up for the reduction in fee revenues. The department does receive funding through other sources, such as advertising and gate revenue. 

Superintendent Steve Razidlo said the primary goal in reducing fees is to retain participation and find ways to keep those numbers up even with the loss of Warrior Way funding in the future. 

Selk said as of March 31, Warrior athletic teams have raised $123,045.78 through various fundraisers and donations. Several of the teams are currently involved in fundraising efforts and their total dollar amounts were not available yet. 

Wrestling coach Dan Anderson told board members how increased fees have affected his sport. So did Mike Boran, BHS swimming and diving coach, who said he was averaging 58 girls on his swim team years ago but those numbers have now dropped to 38 girls. 

“I know where some of my families are coming from and when the Warrior Way money runs out I really don’t know where we’re going to be at,” said Boran. “We’ll always have the families that can afford it ... We used to fundraise to keep the things we used to have, like a meal after a section meet. Then we had to fundraise to keep a coach or offset the cost of the suits for the girls. I’m concerned down the road. I’d hate to see the swim team down to 12 kids.”

Boran said participation fees used to be “ridiculously low, but they’re awfully high right now. It concerns me.”

JODIE TWEED may be reached at jodie.tweed@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5858.

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Sarah Nelson
Sarah Nelson joined the Brainerd Dispatch in April 2010 and works as a online reporter, content editor and staff writer. She is a world traveler, accused idealist and California native now braving the winters of Central Minnesota. She believes in the power of human resolve and hopes to be part of something that makes history by bringing an end to injustice in the world. Sarah has worked as a criminal background researcher, high school civics teacher, grant writer, and contributing writer with Causecast.org — tackling every issue from global poverty to bio-degradable bicycles. Her favorite thing about living in Minnesota is July. Sarah left the Brainerd Dispatch in April 2014.
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