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Sports department receives $15,000 grant, fights deficit

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The Parent-Teacher-Student Association (PTSA) granted the Athletics Department $15,000 during a meeting on May 8 to jump-start next year’s budget, which has been impacted by a significant lack of student donations  this school year.

The Athletics Department, having lacked sufficient funds all year, has attributed the recent deficit to a decrease in “voluntary contributions” by student athletes. Following a lawsuit in 2012, the government reminded all Californian public schools that it is unlawful to have required fees for P.E. or sports-related extracurricular activities. According to Athletics Director Jill Naylor, this means Gunn has to request donations instead of requiring the fees as it did in the past.

According to Naylor, the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) does not allocate for either Paly or Gunn’s after-school sports programs; currently, the $175 donation—per student, per sport—is the only source of funds to cover standard athletics expenses. These expenses include league tournament fees, Central Coast Section (CCS) competition fees, equipment purchases, sports medicine, first aid purchases, and transportation costs. “If the budget starts being cut, we may have to take some tournaments away,” Naylor said. “Or, as we have in the past, we may not provide as many buses [to game locations].” PTSA member Cindy Wenig explained how these changes would affect families. “Parents would have to take time out of work to pick kids up from away games,” she said. “To me [as a parent], that was a significant change.”

According to Naylor, Gunn athletics anticipated a deficit given the increasing number of athletes and the removal of required fees.  “It was sort of a red flag, so we [knew we needed] to prevent it from getting out of control,” she said. In order to prepare, she notified the administration and Sports Boosters, a parent-volunteer organization that works to offset or reduce standard fees. However, the Sports Boosters budget is generally reserved for “extra” expenses like team jackets and upgraded equipment. According to Sports Boosters president Lynn Johnson, the goal of the organization is to boost, not to fund.

Wenig suspected that ambiguity within the application system contributed to the lack of donations. “When registering, a website gives [applicants] the ticket to play,” she said. “It didn’t have a clear link for making an easy contribution—there was no sign that said, ‘Now [donate].’”

Naylor and Wenig further added that some parents and students simply were not inclined to pay a “voluntary” fee. Junior class president Aren Raisinghani, who attended the PTSA meeting at which the Athletics Department received the grant, explained the reasoning behind this attitude. “When presented with the suggested donation request, many students and parents opt out of paying because they don’t realize that these suggested donations are pivotal to the success of athletic programs­­—an understandable error,” Raisinghani said.

Subsequently, Naylor and PTSA members have been informing parents about the deficit by issuing personal appeals via email. “As soon as I found out about [the deficit], I sent an email through all the coaches to alert parents that if they won’t contribute, there will be cuts next year,” Wenig said.

However, Naylor doesn’t see the deficit as a strictly negative situation. “I’m just cautious,” she said. “I think it’s turning into such a positive thing because people are starting to work together to provide great experiences for one another.” Naylor believes that the deficit will soon be balanced a parent awareness rises. According to Naylor, Sports Boosters have not yet been forced to provide funds for the aforementioned necessary expenses, despite the deficit. The round of email appeals brought in $5000 in parent donations within the first week.

Raisinghani feels similarly optimistic. “Athletics and Sports Boosters are doing an excellent job of advocating for the students,” he said. Johnson is also assured that the department will not suffer much. “There are some schools…that had to completely cut out their athletics departments because they were not receiving enough funding, which is really sad to me,” Johnson said.  “Because this is Palo Alto, realistically, we won’t lose [our Athletics Department].”

Others, like Wenig, see the riskiness of the situation. “I think [Naylor] has tried all year to raise awareness among parents [but] I can’t predict how many people will be concerned,” she said. “We can’t wait until next year to solve this problem.”

All agree, however, that student athletes should become involved in supporting their school. “I’d encourage athletes to continue fundraising for themselves,” Raisinghani said. “Student-raised money, along with grant money, can do wonders.” In consideration of student enterprising opportunities, Wenig recently developed an after-school snack bar branching off Titan Gym. “Students can run the concession, with adult supervision, and use it to make money…as a fundraising mechanism,” Wenig said.

Most importantly, Naylor, Wenig and Johnson encourage all student athletes and parents to donate what they can financially afford. “The donation doesn’t have to be the whole amount,” Johnson said. “[Even] a check for $10 would help; every donation helps.”

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Sports department receives $15,000 grant, fights deficit