COLUMBIA — Budget cuts to student activities and athletics so far won’t prevent bus transportation for Columbia Public Schools teams in the coming year.
“Our first priorities are getting kids to games, entry fees and officiant fees,” said Jennifer Mast, director of athletics for Rock Bridge High School.
The district has cut $51,822 from the athletics and activities budget for the 2008-09 school year.
Not even on the radar yet is the idea of “pay to play,” in which students are charged to participate in after-school sports and clubs. USA Today reported that in 2004 that some school districts in 34 states were charging their students to play sports.
“Pay to play has not come to surface,” said Bruce Whitesides, director of athletics for the Columbia district.
The majority of the district athletics budget — which is $939,776 for 2008-09 — is spent at the high school level. Almost $660,500 goes toward employee salaries and benefits.
The athletics budget for Rock Bridge and Hickman high schools is about $130,000 each.
About 31 percent of the money for both high schools is used on transportation.
“Last year, we spent over $80,000 on transportation alone for both Hickman and Rock Bridge,” Whitesides said.
At the high school level, other athletics and activity expenses include officiant fees, supplies, first aid and fixing equipment.
The bulk of the savings will come from transportation budget cuts, Whitesides said. For example, although the Rock Bridge Bruins football team will still travel for away games, the season is based closer to home.
Still, travel is a fact of life for the Bruins and Hickman’s Kewpies. “Columbia high schools can’t compete with comparable schools without traveling,” Mast said. “Small schools would prefer not to play us.”
Last year, the district bought two 15-passenger buses for Hickman and Rock Bridge so that smaller clubs and teams won’t need to take big buses.
Athletic teams and programs such as cheerleading, dance and band for all Columbia public high schools and middle schools are included in the athletics and activities budget, Whitesides said.
Currently, any costs not covered by the athletics budget are covered by fundraising efforts by the booster clubs and the sports teams.
Some student participation activities could be cut next year, but Whitesides said the district has yet to make any decisions.