JOHNSTOWN - Although originally described as a "backup plan," the Greater Johnstown School District now appears poised to implement a tiered system for which athletic teams to fund if private fundraising efforts are unable to raise $311,000 by the start of fall sports.
Interim Athletic Director Mike Satterlee said Johnstown's Purple and Gold Booster Club has raised more than half of its goal for sports funding, approximately $170,000. But if the boosters are unable meet their goal by about mid-August, Satterlee said he's leaning toward a tiered system that would fund varsity sports at the district and cut modified and or junior varsity programs.
"We're trying to make sure we have enough to do things for the whole year, rather than trying to do the benchmark thing, because we've had a lot of concern from parents and athletes who are concerned that people are going to raise money for fall sports, but then we won't have money for [winter or spring] sports," Satterlee said.
The school district eliminated nearly all funding for its after-school athletics programs after its May 21 budget, which carried a 35 percent tax levy increase, failed to garner the 60 percent supermajority needed to override the New York state property tax cap.
Johnstown has been reeling from a $4 million school budget deficit for the last several years, brought on by a combination of factors that included declining enrollment and a failure to raise the district's tax levy high enough in past years.
District voters approved a $37.87 million 2019-20 budget with a 14.6 percent tax levy on June 18, and fundraising to pay for the cut sports programs began the next day.
Prior to the budget revote, on May 30 Johnstown's school board passed two plans outlining how the district would make the difficult decision of what sports to keep, and which to eliminate, if private fundraising proved inadequate to fill the budget hole.
The first plan was described as a "time-window" based benchmark plan, whereby fundraising would aim toward raising the full amount needed for each athletic season in time for the start of each season. Under the benchmark plan, the Purple and Gold booster club would need to raise $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.
Several school board members, including Ron Beck, had urged colleagues not pick and choose among which sports to offer, instead supporting them all or none of them.
Superintendent Patricia Kilburn at the May 30 meeting advised the board to pass a directive that would enable administrators and coaches to go to a "tiered plan" if fundraising efforts failed to raise enough for all of the district's sports.
"If you approve tiered, it's a backup. Again, coaches don't really want to do that, they really want to see if they can fundraise for all, so, it's a backup, if we choose it. We could say it's all or nothing," Kilburn said.
When the tiered plan was initially put before the board, Kilburn said the tiers would likely favor team sports over individual sports, looking at participation and cost per athlete as the major factors.
"But that's argumentative, cross country is also a team sport," Beck said.
Newly-elected school board President Chris Talon said the tiered plan leaves the decision of what teams to field in the hands of Satterlee and the district's coaches.
"It was a directive, not a policy. A policy in the education world is kind of etched in stone. They were telling us we had to figure out what to do with the money we have, do it the best way we could," Satterlee said. "We're going to try to do it by levels [varsity, JV, modified] rather than by sport. I'm going to knock on wood for this, but we're going to have enough, I believe, for all of the varsity sports, all three seasons, by the time fall sports start. That'll give us a little bit of time because modified sports don't start until school starts."
Satterlee said he estimates the Purple and Gold booster club will need to raise between $190,000 and $200,000 for the district to field all of its varsity teams. He said there are some large potential donors that may come through between now and the start of fall sports to enable that goal.
The booster club is also in the process of organizing an Aug. 24 concert at Fox Run Golf Club, which will serve as a fundraiser for Johnstown's sports teams. The Purple and Gold fundraising page can be found at gofundme.com/gmvjqd-johnstown-athletics-save-our-sports.