COLUMBIA — Funding for athletics at Columbia's two high schools took a $11,144 cut under the budget passed Thursday morning by the Columbia School Board.
The budget reduction will affect services and supplies, said the district's Athletics Director, Bruce Whitesides. He said no coaching stipends will be cut.
According to district figures, these were the costs per student for the following sports in declining order:
- Girls basketball: $48,237 budget; $1,206 per athlete.
- Boys basketball: $52,561 budget; $1,031 per athlete.
- Boys swimming: $20,672 budget; $984 per athlete.
- Softball: $38,246 budget; $850 per athlete.
- Girls swimming: $20,672 budget; $795 per athlete.
- Football: $130,394 budget; $724 per athlete.
"The athletic director at each school will be given a smaller total budget, and they will determine how to spread it out by team," said Linda Quinley, the district's chief financial officer. "That is a part of their annual process anyway, as team size and travel needs change year to year."
Earlier this year, Superintendent Chris Belcher was looking for places to trim the budget and suggested elimination of the high school swim program. Impassioned protests from swimmers, parents, coaches and alumni, however, succeeded in saving the program.
"I put it back in the ownership of the patrons," Belcher said. "They convinced me that maybe I was pulling the trigger too quickly."
His rationale for cutting the program was the low enrollment and high cost of swim teams. A total of 47 students belonged to the boys and girls teams at both high schools in the 2010-2011 school year. That number has dropped over the years from more than 60 team members, Belcher said.
During the past school year, boys swim teams had a budget of $20,672 for 21 swimmers, making the cost per male swimmer at $984. With the same budget, the cost for each of 26 female swimmers was $795.
Whitesides said enrollment is the key factor in determining which sports are offered. Some sports, including football, may have a relatively high budget and cost per student, but 180 students play football.
Football and basketball are also revenue generators for the district because of the admission fees to games.
Belcher said Columbia Public Schools does not spend as much on athletics as many other schools. The athletics portion is only 0.5 percent of the entire budget, which was more than $155 million last year.
In addition to the cut, the district is looking at other ways to find money for the athletic program. A uniform contract was signed with Nill Bros. Sports and Adidas in April. Coca-Cola was given exclusive rights to vending machines and advertising.
Over five years, the district hopes to gain $500,000 from Coca-Cola sales, Belcher said.
"We've been working really hard and creatively to continue to support the athletic program but without putting more district funds into it," the superintendent said.
The district will continue to cover coaches, base-level equipment and basic transportation for all sports. Anything additional, including uniforms, are typically funded by booster clubs or parents.