Sports Schism

Coaches and fundraisers want more say in planning for the new high school

Posted: Sunday, November 04, 2007

A group of coaches and fundraisers who run high school club sports are disappointed in the public process as the school district plans for athletics in the next generation of Juneau high schools.

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They say the process has failed and have formed a group of their own to respond to what the school district calls "Next Generation," the planning for the curriculum and extracurricular activities for Juneau-Douglas High School and the new Thunder Mountain High School in the Mendenhall Valley.

That group of 20 meets today to begin developing a sports plan to offer the Juneau School Board later this month.

Members of the group began e-mailing each other after three meetings with the district's planning committee left them feeling unheard. They feared the school district did not understand sports team financing and the lack of facilities the two schools face.

"The process was not great, but the school district thought it was good," said Amy Skilbred, tennis coach, past Juneau Soccer Club treasurer and mother of two students.

Patti Bippus, TMHS principal, organized the three September sessions. She thought two of the meetings held "good conversation."

"We sat around the table," Bippus said. "It was very informal."

District officials say the real public process is yet to come.

About the only certainty with the sports program 10 months before the opening of Thunder Mountain High School is that whatever program the School Board implements will affect what the district calls "outsourced teams," which are affiliated with the school and funded by booster clubs.

Coaches and board members of those outsourced teams want more room at the planning table.

The public process, to date, has included three meetings, one with coaches, one with club board members and a final meeting open to all.

Skilbred said the formats restricted people to submitting only questions to the committee.

"We're being played lip service," said Tom Rutecki, hockey coach and member of the Youth Activities Board. "There was an attempt to make us feel like we had something to say."

Skilbred and Rutecki agree that the process did not allow substantial input from those who run and fund most of the team sports offered within Juneau's public school system.

Bippus said that the third meeting did not go well because of a large public turnout and because there wasn't enough time for a discussion.

"We tried to make the meeting as manageable as possible," she said.

Proposed sports offerings at Juneau high schools

Thunder Mountain:

• Six to eight junior varsity sports, which are still to be determined. Examples provided by Juneau School District include basketball, track, cross country, soccer, volleyball and wrestling.

• Some form of intramural sports program yet to be determined.

• The chance to compete as individuals at the varsity level in sports such as cross country, tennis and swimming.

Juneau-Douglas:

• All current sports, as well as a new intramural sports program.

Coaches and booster club board members fear that the various planning committees in the district don't understand the facilities and financial issues that face running completely separate sports program at the two schools.

"We've done this for years and have raised millions of dollars," said Rutecki.

Hockey is a prime example. Players have access to ice only six hours a week and must practice at 5:30 a.m. Rutecki said, there is simply no room for second team.

If planning is poor, Rutecki said, the outcome could be less involvement from students. The programs simply might not happen.

The boosters cannot fund two equal teams at two high schools.

"We cannot double the fundraising," Skilbred said.

According to Annie Bartholomew, JDHS student athlete, student council representative and member of the Next Generation planning committee, the meetings didn't go well because they didn't address the community's inability to fund two schools with two separate sports programs.

"Most people wanted one school with two campuses," she said.

Rutecki said the problem with the district choosing dual sports programs is "they don't know how to fund them."

Skilbred said a very rough guess of the total expense for both school district teams and school-affiliated club sports to be between $1.2 million and $1.5 million a year.

Emerging plan

Officials at the school district say their own planning is on schedule. On Friday, they released a first-round sports plan for both high schools subtitled "An Emerging Consensus."

The district did not provided a total budget for future sports programs, instead offering only rough estimates. The draft said people can expect a "clear picture of finances from the district by the end of November."

The draft plan calls for separate athletic programs affiliated with the Alaska Sports and Activities Association and a phased expansion of sport offerings at Thunder Mountain.

If accepted, Thunder Mountain would start with six to eight junior varsity sports, such as cross country, basketball and soccer. It would not have varsity teams or any football.

Juneau-Douglas would keep the current sport offerings. Both schools would host an intramural sports program.

Bippus said Thunder Mountain already has money to fund six junior varsity sports with limited travel within Region V.

Skilbred remains concerned about the lack of baseball, softball and hockey at Thunder Mountain.

"Why aren't they in there?" she asked.

Assistant superintendent Charla Wright said regardless of the perception of lack of public input, the offered plan was based on input from last year's 35-member Next Generation committee, this year's 75-member staff planning committee, including students and coaches, and outsourced team coaches and booster clubs.

"Now it needs to go back out for comment," she said.

Bippus agreed.

"We need to go back to the public. We need to have more dialogue with the people," she said.

Superintendent Peggy Cowan said that a series of public comment meetings would be held this month.

Skilbred called the district's proposed sports plan a "good beginning," but lacks a funding package and has omitted several sports. She said her group would decide today if the ad hoc committee plan would build off the district proposal or start fresh.

Critics of the school district process expect to decide at today's meeting if they will ask the School Board for time to offer their proposal at the Nov. 20 School Board meeting.

Information from the ad hoc committee already has been forwarded to the school board.

"They've been open with the board and informed us along the way," School Board President Andi Story said.

Phyllis Carlson, school board vice president, likes the idea of two groups with two recommendations, "especially if the (second) group is made up of coaches and fundraisers."

Rutecki said he knows the School Board will make the final decision about the future of high school sports, but he doesn't know if it will listen to the public or just consider the school district administration.

Public meetings

For school planning

• 7 p.m. Thursday in the Floyd Dryden Middle School Library.

• 7 p.m. Nov. 12 in the Dzantik' i Heeni Middle School Library.

• 7 p.m. Nov. 14 in the Juneau-Douglas High School Commons.

• 7 p.m. Nov. 19 in the Riverbend Elementary School library.



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