School district looks at team accounts to cover travel overspending

The school district overspent its student travel budget the past two years and is considering filling the gap with money from team fundraising accounts — the cash that athletes, their parents and supporters raise for equipment, uniforms and other extras not funded by the district.

Pulling as much as $36,000 from what are known as “class and club” accounts is controversial, particularly since the district has fallen short of explaining the problem and the solution, said several high school team coaches who spoke at the school board meeting on Sept. 18.

Swim coach Jamie Roberts told the board she recently was notified that much of the money the team had been saving for new starting blocks was no longer in its account. “I’m still not sure where that money has gone.”

Schools Superintendent Bill Burr, in an interview two days after the board meeting, said the money has not yet been transferred to cover the deficit in the student travel budget, though that is an option.

“Right now, it’s proposed,” he said. Burr explained he wants direction from the school board on how to cover last year’s overspending on student travel.

The school board has scheduled a work session for 6:30 p.m. Oct. 16 to discuss student activities funding. Board president David Wilson described the agenda as “exploring options for funding that negative amount.”

No other board member responded to the coaches’ comments at the Sept. 18 meeting.

The district business manager recently notified each coach of how much money might need to be withdrawn from their account to cover the shortfall, Burr explained, adding, “It hasn’t actually happened yet.”

Another option to cover the travel budget overspending would be to withdraw the money from the district’s reserves, which stand at about $750,000. The district has consistently relied on reserves in recent years to fill gaps in its operating budget of about $5.1 million as state funding has failed to keep pace with inflation and lower enrollment has reduced state dollars to the district.

“We know things (budget finances) are bad,” wrestling coach Jack Carney told the school board last week. But it was a surprise to learn that money the team has saved could be gone, he said.

The past school year, in particular, was expensive for school athlete travel to state championship competitions, as the boys cross-country team, girls volleyball team, boys basketball and Wrangell wrestlers all competed at state meets.

The district spent about $106,000 on student travel in the 2022-2023 school year, about $36,000 more than was budgeted and about $10,000 more than the previous year.

Auditors this summer told the district that its state travel account was overdrawn. “Last year, when we had four teams that went to state, we didn’t do a good enough job, I think, of following our own policy that that money had to be paid before state travel,” Burr said in an interview a month ago.

The district this school year raised its annual fee for student athletes who could go to state competition, boosting the cost from $350 to $400, which will raise a few thousand dollars.

Swim coach Roberts told the board she would like to see the district issue quarterly reports to the teams and other student activity groups that deposit money into class and club accounts, to keep them better informed of their balance and any expenses charged to their accounts.

“We’ve been saving our money” for improvements like starting blocks for swimmers, Roberts said in an interview a day after the board meeting. She thought there was between $10,000 and $11,000 in the account, but a month ago was told by the district office that the balance of available funds was down to $5,000.

“I have a lot of questions,” she said.

She also asked that the teams get more input into travel planning, particularly to allow advance ticket purchases to save money on airfares.

Cross-country coach Mason Villarma, who is the borough’s finance director, suggested to the school board that monthly reports of each team’s account balance would be an important step in financial management and transparency.

The teams put a lot of effort into fundraising, all the coaches said. “Our community really does a generous job helping our students,” girls basketball coach Christy Good told school board members. Getting monthly reports would help the teams better track their account balance and any charges against the account, she added.


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