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Questions Remain After Pay-to-Play Presentation

School board chairperson Andy Powell said that the presentation was only the 'first conversation' on the athletic program fees.

The school board addressed concerns and raised questions for some residents with a presentation on the schools' pay-to-play athletics program during Tuesday night's meeting.

While the presentation outlined the background of pay-to-play in Tolland and included cost breakdowns for six different sports, parents and residents called for more information from the board.

"It doesn't add up," commented resident Lori Salina of the board's handout which stated that $112,358 will be needed to fund athletic programs at the high school and middle school in addition to the funds raised from fees of $325 for varsity and JV and $225 at the middle school. A total of $259,258 would be needed to return fees to $125 for all sports, an increase of $146,900.

Salina expressed concern because the number differs from the $153,677 requested for student athletics in the BOE budget on the school district website.

Another parent also requested information on how much funding comes in from booster clubs and other private donations. The private funding amounts were not included in the presentation.

Chairperson Andy Powell said that the discrepancy that Salina mentioned would be investigated and clarified. He added that any questions from parents should be sent to either BOE members or the BOE office so that they can be addressed at later meetings.

"Tonight is a first conversation," Powell said. "We understand that emotions are high, and that there are heavy financial burdens that the parents are paying."

In the presentation, attached above, Powell said that the pay-to-play fees increased significantly after the 2009-2010 fiscal year, in which the school board received a one percent budget increase. The board received no increase in 2008-2009, according to the presentation.

Powell said that in 2009-2010, the school suffered significant staff cuts: 15.4 teaching positions, 4.5 paraprofessionals and 2.5 custodial positions. Powell explained that when facing even more staffing cuts for core curriculum, it was difficult to defend athletic funding at $125 fees.

Superintendent William Guzman agreed with several commenters who expressed frustration that parents are funding athletics, which they argued should be supported by taxpayers as a part of providing an education to Tolland students.

"Parents in this room have subsidized what I believe is a community obligation," Guzman said. "That to me is unconscionable."

He mentioned that the proposed tax increase for a mid-level assessed home in Tolland would consist of a $61 tax increase if the current budget passes, and compared that to the hundreds of dollars parents are paying individually to fund school athletics.

Tolland resident Brenda Falusi said that she'd like to see a more detailed and easily understandable breakdown of budget information, but also said that residents should become involved earlier in the budget process, especially since the school board budget can be quite complex.

"It would have been nice to see a lot of the parents earlier," she said. However, she remained hopeful that conversations will continue between parents and the schools.

"I think the process will improve," she said.

Powell said that a pay-to-play task force may be formed to address the issue.

Check out the presentation above to see background on pay-to-play and to view a detailed breakdown of six different sports budgets. Powell added that all surplus funds go back into the general athletic fund.

The school board also approved the 2012-2013 school calendar at the meeting, which is included in the meeting's agenda. Lunch prices were also increased to $2.25 at the elementary schools, $2.50 at the middle school and $2.75 at the high school. Powell said it was the first lunch price increase since 2006.

Resident April 11, 2012 at 12:36 PM
The town should just take all the land the school have for athletics and put up mobile home parks to generate funds. Might as well turn the schools into little mini-slums to generate the much needed funds the citizens refuse to pay. I dont understand why we have all those fields andyway if the school arent going to fund the activities. I endorse varsity hiking through the woods. Thats free.
Robert J. Noonan April 11, 2012 at 01:30 PM
Pay to play is patently elitist. It discriminates against a segment of citizens and has no place in a public school whose mission should be to provide equal opportunity for all students regardless of economic status. I would rather see interscholastic sports eliminated until the community can afford to pay for them. Robert J. Noonan
John Durand April 11, 2012 at 08:08 PM
Some costs have to be paid by the users. Athletics should be one of them. For those whining about pay to play, perhaps cutting back on the cell phones, tablets, cable etc. which many residents can't even afford would be in order. I was not surprised at the venomous comments above, probably from someone who put in a claim for the Gsnap money last fall. I also find Bill Gusman's comment about parents "subsidizing" a community obligation a bit over the top. If it was up to him every tax dollar would go to his budget. Time to rethink how education is delivered. Come to think of it, time to define what it means to educate. You were told very clearly that if a new high school was built budgets were going to get squeezed as the elastic limit of local funding was reached. Further, you were told that if that was the route taken, much effort better be put into creating a more efficient delivery system and/or greater prioritization of subject concentration. Instead, the administration and BOE refuse citizen participation, except for dollar solicitation, and refuse to take the lead in fighting for changes to mandates which serve no purpose but cost building. It's time a real effort was made to involve BOE's of other towns to eliminate needless mandates, funded or not. State dollars are not free. We should concentrate on ways to improve the cost to student benefit instead of continuing down a path that does a disservice to the students and those paying the bills.
Tolland Resident April 11, 2012 at 08:15 PM
I was disappointed with the meeting last night. It appeared the BOE was not prepared for the discussion and the materials did not tie to the submitted budget. I am concerned that we are using fees for one sport to (Girls Varsity Track $6600 profit) to pay for another sport (Varsity Football ($4500) loss) without regard the financial impact to the parents of the girls varsity track team. The BOE also does not seem to have contemplated the impact of reinstating TMS sports. Parents at TMS will now pay more (e.g.,$112 this year for cross country) for sports that were self-funded this year vs in the budget for next year (e.g.,$225 for cross country). So the same level of coaching / meets for over $100 increase... I should not have to pay to supplement sports that are losing money. Also, thank you Mr. Werbner for taking all the questions at the Town meeting, no matter how painful. That same courtesy was not extended at the BOE meeting.
D April 11, 2012 at 10:19 PM
I, too, was disappointed with last night's meeting and agree the BOE was not adequately prepared nor in the right frame of mind to deal with legitimate questions from the residents/taxpayers/parents. I did not go to question the pay to play fees as I thought the BOE had done the best they could for next year. However, I left with many questions and was extremely disappointed in the lack of details in the info presented. A simplified power point presentation was not adequate when parents had asked for specific details as to the expense of each sport and how the participation fees, donations, fundraising and gate receipts were applied. A spreadsheet hand out with the info available to date would have been helpful. As Lori Salina pointed out, the only handout the BOE had prepared showed a budget need of $112,358 using the $325/$225 ptp fees while the budget document (pg 12 of Executive Summary on BOE website) shows $153, 677 being budgeted for athletics. The BOE had no explanation last night for the $41,000 difference and didn't even try. Didn't they look at their own documents and see it didn't match? Based on $153,677, the fees proposed should have been at least $40-50 less. I hope the BOE provides answers soon to the many questions asked last night so there can be a common understanding of what has transpired and what the plan is for the future. Then all this energy can be focused on getting this budget to pass so we don't end up in a worse situation next year..
Andy Powell April 12, 2012 at 02:04 AM
John, I think that you have some very good points here. And, I greatly appreciate that you use your name to identify your comments. Once we get beyond the "referendum" season, I would be happy to talk to you, and other concerned citizens, the town council and our state officials about mandate review and repeal. Similar to health care, our education system is not broken, just not modernized. Modernized to take advantage of new technologies, ideas, curriculum and fiscal realities. We have to do better and do it more efficiently or both sides of the equation (student and taxpayer) will not receive the true benefit of our efforts.
Disgusted April 12, 2012 at 12:43 PM
Good point- As stated by a resident at the Town Council meeting recently, why threaten to cancel sports programs after paying for 2 million dollar tracks and putting thousands upon thousands into Cross Farms and other sports fields. Answer: They wouldn't. It's a bluff. An attempt to scare and coerce parents of the athletes into funding the BOE's shortfalls.
Disgusted April 12, 2012 at 12:53 PM
Hey, D- Happy to agree with you- The BOE was woefully unprepared and it showed. When questioned by various residents on the inconsistencies with the numbers, Andy Powell's frequent response was " Uhhhh, I will get back to you on that..." Really ? Good job to Lori Salina for bringing hard,cold facts to the meeting which, disturbingly, could not be answered. This lack of preparedness is creating an atmosphere of animosity that could inevitably snowball and turn out to be an obstacle in passing the budget- We need transparency as soon as possible.
D April 12, 2012 at 01:40 PM
Andy, modernization is a wonderful goal for the future. Right now, however, we need transparency and accountability so we can have enough support to pass this budget. I supported the increase in ptp fees because I thought it would actually make it more affordable for JV and TMS students. Based on your presentation, however, I do not see the need for the large increase. Have you figured out the $41,000 discrepancy yet in the budgeted amount for athletics? Also, in your brief power point presentation you referenced the number of positions lost in the last few years. I didn't hear mention though, of the 8 positions actually being added in this proposed budget. Parents do seem to have a point that sports fees are being used to fund teaching positions. If you weren't adding 8 positions, wouldn't there be more room in the budget for the athletic budget and less of a need for the highest ptp fees in the state?
Jennifer April 12, 2012 at 06:29 PM
We need to have all the numbers sooner than later, or they will find a way to hide and cover up these issues that have been brought forward! Every penny, of every athletic fundraising event should be handed out to every player, and posted on the schools website. Something is very, very wrong here Tolland residents. If this was found just concerning the pay to play issue, how do you think the rest of the towns budget is being presented?
Phil Morneault April 12, 2012 at 09:53 PM
John, one of the "new technology" websites that has been featured on 60 minutes could be one of those resources that the teachers could use to supplement their classroom time and also help students in need of a little extra help. I don't know if you are familiar with the Kahn Academy but it may offer opportunities to help students learn and also help teachers. http://www.khanacademy.org/ 60 Minutes also did a feature about how the Academy's information is used to help teachers: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18560_162-57394905/khan-academy-the-future-of-education/?tag=currentVideoInfo;videoMetaInfo This may be an opportunity to help students, and the Board of Ed. and the teachers learn new methods of helping students learn and improve the efficiences in the classroom. I know I am not a certified educator so this may be out of line for me to make such a suggestion. However, from the little I know of it, this is a very promising option for the future. And... as far as I know, this is free. Phil Morneault An Interested Tolland resident
Andy Powell April 13, 2012 at 06:09 PM
After doing a review of the meeting, it appears the issue that we had with the numbers was that we did not clearly delineate the differences between the '10-'11 actual expenditures, the '11-'12 planned and '11-'12 actual expenditure and the '12'13 planned budget. We mixed them, based on the sport or program, and that was a mistake. Considering the open nature of the presentation, I did not expect to be able to answer every possible question. I felt it is much better to say I don't know, and find the right answer rather than make some thing up on the spot to "look" good. And, since this is not the only time that we are going to discuss this topic, I knew that there would be additional opportunities to provide information and receive additional feedback. So, I don't feel embarrassed by saying "Uhh, I will get back to you...." Because I will, and it will be with the right answer, which is what you really want.
Andy Powell April 13, 2012 at 06:26 PM
Jennifer, There is no hiding or covering up. We made changes to a already planned BoE meeting specifically to address the concerns that came forward during the Town Budget presentation. If we were covering up, would we do that? We are reviewing the issue in the upcoming Finance and Facilities meeting. If we were covering it up, would we do that? The Board and the District administration are actively responding to a dozen email and meeting requests by concerned citizens. We are not covering up, we are uncovering the right answers. Remember, not every penny of athletic fund raising goes to support BoE programs. There is fund raising for the "Friend of Tolland... sports" Tolland Little League, Tolland Soccer... All of which are outside of our responsibility, therefore we can not report on at income. The BoE is here, we are not hiding. We will get the answers. But, remember, you make not like all the answers....
Lori Salina April 13, 2012 at 06:44 PM
Andy - as you know, the $41k discrepancy is the difference between what was provided on the April 10th handout as estimated funding necessary for the Athletic Program and the number that was requested from the TOWN in the 4.64% increase Executive Summary - both numbers represent 12' - 13' BUDGET numbers. It is very frustrating to try to get involved and ask questions and then to see posts like this misrepresenting the facts. In addition, we have not seen any documents with the Plan vs Actual for 2010 - 2011, if that is something that is now available - I know that there are several people who have been waiting to receive. Again, can we please just be honest as to what is and isn't available?
Concerned April 13, 2012 at 07:12 PM
Andy, The meeting this past Tuesday was a disappointment at best. You had stated that you would have a very solid explanation at the next BoE meeting to all of the Pay to Play questions. That you would clearly outline the costs of the program, how they are then distributed to the participating students, how the fees are then used for the programs. There were more questions than answers. There were questions that were promised detailed answers that have not yet been answered. The individuals asking the questions were unable to ask all of the questions they wished too because you cut the time short and said you did not have time for any more questions. How was this meeting helpful?? We are all still waiting for the current budget, detailed actual and estimated costs, fund raising numbers (Actual for each sport by students as well as any $’s of donated funds from different groups, and what these funds were used for). The only thing that came from the meeting was more questions. How could we possibly think there is information being covering up????
Parent April 13, 2012 at 07:16 PM
Andy, we know the difference between fundraising for Tolland Little League and fundraising for High School Baseball! We want to know where our money is going. Parents wrote their checks for pay to play and if you have a child in the Tolland High School Baseball program, you were required to have your child sell 20 Dunkin Donut cards at $20 a piece which equals $400 per athlete. Your presentation said there were 16 athletes on the JV team which represents $6,400 that was handed into the coaches mostly in cash. This was not the first year either. How much of that money goes to the baseball team? Is it half - $3,200? Then where is that number in your presentation? We want to know what the actual costs are for EACH program in your schools. Why can't you give us those numbers on what the fall sports and the winters sports cost for 11/12 season and what the 10/11 spring sports costs. Where is the ticket money? Why wasn't the revenue from ticket sales shown in Varsity Football? THS has to know what was collected so far for spring sports, parents had to write their checks two weeks ago. Why can't the athletic director provide this information?!! I think parents are upset because they can NOT get a straight answer!! How can you budget for something you don't even know the costs for?
D April 13, 2012 at 07:53 PM
Andy- thank you for taking the time to answer. Unfortunately, your answer is rather confusing. I know due to the many questions you're dealing with you're looking at many different budget years at the same time, but the "Athletic Program Outline" from your powerpoint (pdf above and on BOE website) specifically references FY2012-13 so it should match the budgeted amount on your submitted budget proposal for 2012/13.and it doesn't. If you're saying the numbers on your "Athletic Program Outline" were incorrect, please post a corrected one. Thanks again.
Disgusted April 13, 2012 at 10:17 PM
Parent, You are 100% correct- In fact, if you look at the "Pay for Participation" section of the Tolland School's "Athletic Dept Regulations and Guidelines" it states : "When necessary, the BOE may require a Pay for Participation fee in order to meet the costs of the athletic program....." There it is. To fund the costs of the ATHLETIC PROGRAM....not to bridge gaps in the BOE's budget and fund TEACHING positions. This is a bait and switch, and exactly why there have been no substantive answers offered- I am curious about the 8 teaching positions mentioned by "D"....how are those being funded? It seems as though we are being fed partial information or just plain incorrect information, which begs the question..."What is going on ?"
Deirdre Goldsmith April 14, 2012 at 12:21 AM
Our family, like so many others, has been impacted by the failings of our current "Pay to Participate" program. I am among the parents who feel that it's outrageous, unfair and unacceptable. However, it's beginning to feel as if energies are being wasted in holding one elected official (an unpaid volunteer) accountable for this failed model. It's not right, it's not effective, and it's not solving our problem. Our families do need and deserve answers, as well as a MUCH better plan moving forward that doesn't unfairly burden families of students involved in school athletics. But I imagine that parents' efforts would yield better results if focused on plans for more "reasonable" fees moving forward. It sickens me that neighboring school districts can and DO provide sports opportunities to their students at no out-of-pocket expense to parents. I'd rather fix our problem moving forward than place blame on a B of Ed volunteer for this failed program.
D April 14, 2012 at 09:33 AM
You are right, Deirdre, and I would like to apologize for my part in targeting questions and responses mainly to Andy Powell. I certainly don't blame him for the mess. Unfortunately, as chairperson he made the presentation the other night and is the most responsive on these threads so it's easy to fall into a back & forth with him. But , you're right, he is just volunteering his time and I'm sure must have a life beyond reading Patch (no offense, Patch). He has said the Finance Committee will look into accounting for past fees, fundraising,etc and they should be given time to do so. I hope everyone will be satisfied when they see all the numbers in a clear spreadsheet. As for the budget at hand, we do still need a clear explanation of what the total Athletic budget actually is for 2102/13 and how the BOE arrived at the $153,000 figure in their budget request. The handout did not support that nor did it account for other income such as gate receipts. Perhaps one of our paid employees (Supt, Athletic Director, Budget Director?) could take the time to clarify and give Andy a break :) Again, thank you, Deirdre and sorry to Andy.
Jayme Kunze April 14, 2012 at 01:40 PM
D, no offense taken. I'm the only one whose life should be consumed by reading Tolland Patch : )
Andy Powell April 14, 2012 at 02:20 PM
Deirdre, Thank you very much for the support. And D, I do have a "life" outside of the BoE. But, with that being said, I did take a position of responsibility and accountability. And, I take this seriously. We are working to get the right answers to the Town. These efforts are going to take a little time. Not months or years, but a couple weeks. We are targeting the Finance and Facilities meeting on the 23rd, or the full Board meeting on the 25rd.

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