Of the Baker City Herald

Student athletes at Baker Middle School will have to pay to participate during the 2004-05 school year.

Admission also will be charged for middle school football, volleyball and basketball games manned by volunteers.

andquot;We're looking at pay to participate next year,andquot; said Mindi Vaughan, Baker Middle School interim assistant principal. andquot;It's pretty much a foregone conclusion.andquot;

But neither funding source will be adequate to shore up the budget and pay for delayed maintenance on facilities and equipment. Cuts have been made to try and close the gap, as funding for middle school sports has fallen to just over half the 2000 budget.

Pay to participate

Under the pay to participate program, the cost to participate per sport will be $25. With the projected number of athletes participating on middle school teams in 2002-03, more than 60 percent of all BMS students participated in some sports program that would raise approximately $5,000.

Vaughan said three-sport athletes would pay a maximum of $50. A family cap of $100 would apply to those with more than one athlete.

Athletes would be unable to participate until they pay. If an athlete cannot pay, payment will be garnered from a hardship fund, donations, booster club, or payment plan. Criteria for non-payment will be implemented. These athletes may be required to perform duties around school to equal the financial stipend provided.

Baker High School went to the pay for participation program this year. Cost there is $50 per sport, with a $100 maximum for three-sport athletes, and a $200 cap for families with more than one athlete participating.

Funding has declined

Like most school programs across the state, the Baker Middle School athletic program has seen a dramatic reduction in funding. In 2000-2001, the program received $97,527. That figure has dropped to $55,400 for the current school year.

Of the current athletic budget, $26,500 is cash carryover from last year. That money was to be used for capital outlay. But now it will be used to keep the program functioning.

andquot;Without some cuts and/or raising of revenue this year, the middle school athletic program will be unable to sustain most programs in 2004-2005,andquot; Vaughan said. andquot;We propose to begin cutting some programs and raising revenue in others as a preventive measure.andquot;

Vaughan said the Middle School OSSOM program was cut, saving approximately $2,500. She said the club had low participation last year and the topics covered will continue through other programs.

The school yearbook also will continue under a different format, saving approximately $2,500.

And, athletic supervision has been cut at BMS, at a savings of another $2,000.

Even with these steps, cuts in personnel had to be made. This year seven coaching positions were eliminated at the middle school. Even with the cuts, coaching salaries still make up $38,007 of the $55,400 budget.

andquot;The dollars saved from the eliminated coaching positions are being used to offset the budget deficit,andquot; said Kathy Taylor, BMS athletic director.

Making do; help needed

The lack of coaches has caused some other coaches to alter their practice tactics.

andquot;Some coaches are not able to handle the larger number of kids at one time,andquot; Vaughan said. andquot;One coach, who coaches both seventh and eighth graders at the same time, has even scheduled her seventh grade practice in the morning and eighth grade in the evening to make it easier to handle the numbers. We really need more volunteer help.andquot;

Taylor added that it's not just coaching salary dollars that aren't there in the budget. It's also for equipment, supplies and travel.

andquot;Right now we don't have a storage shed for our tennis equipment, and the door on the storage area for our football and track equipment is beyond repair,andquot; Taylor said. andquot;Those were two things we were hoping to get replaced this year.andquot;

Taylor said other areas where cutbacks were made are limiting the purchase of uniforms, equipment and supplies; paying extra duty pay only for game officials; reducing the number of contests; and changing seventh grade football to intramural only.

Taylor added that the BMS wrestling mats have not been reconditioned for at least three years; boys basketball, wrestling and all track uniforms need to be replaced; the volleyball team needs new shorts; new headgear is needed for wrestling; and new protective pads are needed for the pillars in the gym.

andquot;And we have pavement and cement at one end of the football field. That's dangerous for the kids,andquot; Taylor said. andquot;We haven't come up with a solution for that. We'd like to use the high school field for our eighth grade games, but it's pretty busy.

andquot;Our tennis courts are in terrible condition,andquot; Taylor added. andquot;Last year we went to the high school. We've made some of those concessions to keep going. But, when you don't have the budget to pay coaching salaries, we don't know what we'll do after this year.andquot;

Taylor said that although they are charging at the BMS games, they can't expect that many more dollars in that area.

andquot;We'd just be hitting the parents,andquot; she said. andquot;It's not like at the high school where some people go to every game. At the middle school you're only going to get the parents and grandparents for most of the games.andquot;

As for traveling, this year the eighth grade football team will play three games on the road, down from five in the past. The volleyball teams and boys and girls basketball teams each play five road games.

So where is any more money going to come from?

andquot;We're looking at grants,andquot; Taylor said. andquot;We can fund-raise, grant write, or beg for equipment and things like that, but I don't think the people are going to do so for coaching salaries.andquot;

andquot;We're hoping to work more with our PSO (Parent School Organization), and get them more active,andquot; Vaughan said.

andquot;Currently, only three parents are active members,andquot; she said earlier this year.

andquot;Then, I guess we go back to the budget committee in the spring,andquot; Taylor said.

So, what would it take to keep the program functioning?

andquot;We're looking at at least $65,000 for coaching salaries and equipment without the pay to participate,andquot; Taylor said.

andquot;We're even considering a $10 rental fee per player for uniforms in all sports,andquot; Vaughan said. andquot;That might help raise enough to replace some uniforms.

andquot;But, I think the middle school budget is so bare-boned right now, we're already putting off things we typically do every year.andquot;

Taylor added that Baker is not alone in facing budget problems.

andquot;BMS is not the only area school in this kind of financial trouble,andquot; she said. andquot;In La Grande, the sports have been turned over to the Optimist Club. In Burns, the community raised the money needed to fund their sports programs.andquot;

A committee has been formed to study the problem in Baker, and make plans to correct the problem. The committee will meet every two weeks and will report to the Baker School Board.