In less than a month, Johntown's Purple and Gold Sport Booster Club has raised just over $150,000, about half of the money needed to restore the district's athletic programs for the 2019-20 school year.
Fundraising to save Johnstown's athletic teams began in earnest on June 19, just one day after district residents approved a $37.87 million budget with a 14.6-percent tax levy increase for the 2019-20 academic year. While the budget included $200,000 for transportation for athletics, it left a $311,000 hole for the district's sports teams to be filled by private donations.
The Greater Johnstown School District has been grappling with a more than $4 million budget deficit, which it can only close with a series of 15 percent tax levy increases over the next several years. The budgets will require super-majority 60 percent approval from district residents in order to break the New York state tax cap. If the district can't raise the tax levy needed, Johnstown's high school and kindergarten programs could close within three to four years. In the meantime, the district has been forced to eliminate almost all funding for sports, extracurricular activities, high school electives, and to begin the process of transforming its high school program into career pathways-based curriculum.
Christine Krempa, Johnstown's varsity field hockey coach, has been leading the sports fundraising efforts. Krempa said Friday a little more than $150,000 has been raised so far, bringing the effort slightly past the halfway point.
"We're above the halfway," Krempa said.
Krempa said she has been executing a plan to solicit donations from large businesses in the Johnstown Industrial Park. While the industrial park is located within the city of Johnstown, the property is part of the Fonda-Fultonville Central School District, meaning Johnstown's schools derive no property taxes from those businesses.
"We've had some donations come in [from the Johnstown Industrial Park businesses], but we're still in the process of putting together the announcement of those, so we are not ready to release that. Some of them have been quite substantial," Krempa said.
In May, the Johnstown School Board adopted two plans for how to proceed with its fundraising efforts to restore sports programming.
The first policy adopted by the board is one that restores all sports programming, provided that enough money is raised to fund each of the three sports seasons, fall, winter and spring, based on whether they hit fundraising benchmarks high enough to pay for the respective seasons. Johnstown needs $89,310 for its fall sports, with $73,340 going to varsity, $30,230 to junior varsity and $30,300 for modified. The winter sports total would be $89,310 and for spring it would be $88,710, both with similar breakdowns for varsity, JV and modified.
If the booster club is unable to raise the money to refund sports, a "tiered plan" that would prioritize sports based on both participation and cost per athlete will be implemented. While the plan could favor team sports over individual sports, district officials have said overall cost will be a primary factor.
According to Krempa, who said the district's athletic coaches met last Wednesday night, there was no announcement about a decision on whether all fall sports will be restored or if the district will opt for the tiered plan.
Newly elected School Board President Chris Talon, who was not yet on the board when the two-phase plan was adopted, said it was his understanding that the goal was to raise all $311,000 by the start of the school year. He added that if the goal is not met, Interim Athletic Director Mike Satterlee and the district's athletic coaches will make the decision whether to use the benchmark system or go to a tiered system.
"It's up to the athletic director, he's the one who's going to be heading that up, making the decision with the coaches and the staff about what we do if we don't reach [our fundraising goal]. That's where the benchmark, or the tiered system comes into play," Talon said. "Obviously, the best thing to do would be to get the full-funding before school starts."
Satterlee told the Daily Gazette in June that the district's goal was to, "... reach our first benchmark, get fall going and hopefully by mid-October or so have everything else that we need for the rest of the year."
Satterlee could not be reached for comment Friday.
Scott Jeffers, a Johnstown teacher who committed to coaching the girls modified soccer team for the 2019 fall season, said he still doesn't know whether the district will fund his team yet.
"This would be my second-year coaching. I think everyone is pushing and working so hard, coaches, the faculty, people in the city, the kids. I think everybody is working so hard I think in the end it's going to work out well, but I can't 100 percent say what's going to happen," Jeffers said.
Krempa said that ADK Field Hockey had agreed to donate all of the proceeds from its "Wicked Smart" tournament held this past weekend to Johnstown to benefit its athletic programs.
"That should be at least a few thousand dollars at least," she said.
Krempa said the booster club is also in the process of organizing an Aug. 24 concert at Fox Run Golf Club, which will also serve as a fundraiser for Johnstown's sports teams.