Academics and athletics: Budget cuts force Idaho schools to adapt

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by Ryan Larrondo and KTVB.COM

NWCN.com

Posted on May 5, 2013 at 10:19 PM

Updated Sunday, Nov 24 at 6:47 AM

BOISE --  A slumping economy has forced many government agencies to tighten their belts, especially the Idaho Department of Education. Simply put, when the country went into recession four years ago, the money to fund education decreased greatly.

As the cash flow dried up, local school districts faced a big problem.

"It had never happened in public education in Idaho," Idaho Department of Education communications director Melissa McGrath said. "The state had to reduce public schools budget by about $200 million. They had never faced that situation before."

Less money led to cuts that had to be made at a school district level. That's when many athletic departments were put under the microscope.

BOISE

"Do you want to cut with an axe, or do you want a scalpel? We chose the scalpel," said Boise School District Athletic Director Matt Kobe.

Kobe says his district adopted a plan of shifting and adapting to the monetary challenges. It found a way to move athletic facility funds into a general fund on an as-needed basis. Team travel costs were limited and coaches’ salaries were capped.

"We've cut where we've needed to cut; we've had dramatic cuts throughout the district in every area," Kobe said.

The resulting savings have been successful in the Boise School District -- for now. Athletic participation has not declined or increased. The district is confident it is doing enough to create a healthy, and enriching environment.

"I think that if you're an athlete in our district, that you really haven't noticed the change, and I'm very proud of that," Kobe said.

MERIDIAN

The Meridian school district was forced to adopt a “pay for play” model, with athletes paying $110 per sport, for up to two sports a year. Some assistant coaching positions have been eliminated, and coaches’ salaries have also been capped. Despite the changes, athletic participation has not decreased.

HORSESHOE BEND

Just north of the Treasure Valley, the Horseshoe Bend school district was affected greatly by the budget cuts. The importance of saving money for the classroom has led to less money for the fields and courts.

"It's been difficult for us. Athletics is understandably one of the first areas cut when a district is in dire straits financially," athletic director Dennis Chesnut said.

As is the case in many small Idaho towns, the community of Horseshoe Bend decided to do something about its athletics problem. 

"My two sons were on the middle school track team this year, and they don't have uniforms, and they just look ridiculous,” Horseshoe Bend resident Melanie Flake said.  “At all the track meets, the other kids have uniforms, and they just have to wear something that's black."

In September, a group of concerned citizens banded together and organized the first annual Race to the Summit, a fun-run that raised over $13, 000 for not only athletics in Horseshoe Bend, but wherever it was needed inside the classroom as well.

The Race to the Summitt

"We'll continue to do it year after year. Because the school doesn't have a lot of money," Flake said.

"For us in Horseshoe Bend, the school is the community, it's the hub of our community, and things happen here,” Horseshoe Bend School District superintendent Vickie Renfro said. “So when people come together and step up to offer, it's huge."

A levy was also passed by the community, ensuring funds for the next two years.  But the future is still uncertain.

"Scratch stuff together and rely on the generosity of community members and strangers,” Chesnut said. “It's not a sustainable model. So, it's still such a tight margin."

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