Our View: School district should fully fund athletics | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: School district should fully fund athletics

The wide array of sports offered at Steamboat Springs High School is one of the school's greatest attributes, and we urge school officials to work diligently to solve a funding shortfall without cutting such activities.

More than 500 students participate in the high school's 22 sports. That's an astounding number of which the school can and should be proud. We have made this point before: Athletics not only promote good health and teach lifelong lessons about teamwork and effort, but also are key to keeping youths engaged in school. There is overwhelming evidence that kids who participate in sports perform better academically and are less likely to drop out.

That's why it's disheartening to hear Steamboat Springs School Board President Brian Kelly suggest that the district consider cutting sports to make up for a $70,000 budget shortfall in the athletic budget.

We agree with Kelly that it's difficult to push more fees onto parents who already pay significantly for their children to participate in sports. And we don't support retaining sports programs for which participation has fallen below what is enough to field a team. But otherwise, preserving athletic programs at the school should be of the highest priority, not because of what happens on the field but because of what sports does for youths off it.

Last spring, the school district found itself about $30,000 short on the funding it needed to pay for athletic transportation. The district restructured staff and fees to find $19,000. The Steamboat Springs High School Booster Club put together a fundraiser and came up with an additional $11,000. But both sides knew it was a short-term solution.

This time, we hope the district works to put in place a long-term solution.

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Realistically, $70,000 isn't much for a school district with a $22 million operating budget, including a half-cent sales tax that provides in excess of $2 million per year to enhance education in Routt County. Putting it in simpler terms, the athletic funding shortfall boils down to about one full-time employee within the district.

Recently, the school district asked the Education Fund Board to pay $1.3 million to fund 22 teachers in the district. Maybe this is overly simplistic, but why couldn't the district amend its Fund Board request to include 21 teachers and ask for the rest to help fund all 22 athletic programs at the high school?

There may be other, better approaches. But make no mistake: We think spending $70,000 to fully fund sports that engage more than 500 high school students is a much better academic investment than spending nearly the same amount to try to achieve an incremental decrease in class size that has, at best, dubious academic benefit.

The athletic programs at Steamboat Springs High School challenge students to keep their grades up and make good choices off the field. They fill students' time with healthy activity. They teach students time management, sportsmanship and teamwork. They are invaluable, and we think our school district should do everything within its power to build, not cut, such activities.