MARTINEZ -- In the wake of budget cuts, declining donations and a ban on mandatory student fees, the Alhambra High School athletics program is seeking creative ways to raise money.
In 2010, the American Civil Liberties Union of California filed a class-action lawsuit alleging that the fees school districts charged students to participate in sports and other activities violated the state's constitutional guarantee to "free school."
"There are very few things for which districts may charge student fees," said Andi Stubbs, chief business official for the Martinez school district.
As a result, Alhambra High asks parents to donate $150 for each student athlete per sport, with a cap of $300 if a child participates in multiple sports. In the 2010 school year, parents gave $58,069, according to district records. Last year, donations fell to $32,697.
"We really need it to keep the lights on," said Alhambra High Athletic Director Pat Ertola, adding that the department is trying to be more "aggressive" in pursuing donations.
Alhambra offers a wide variety of sports for girls and boys including golf, volleyball, water polo, football, basketball, soccer and lacrosse.
The general athletics budget covers team transportation, security, referee pay, equipment and CPR certification for coaches, among other expenses. Overall, the athletics program ended the 2012 school year with a $28,000 deficit, district records show.
The bulk of the funding for Alhambra sports comes from basketball and football game ticket sales, donations and the Associated Student Body super card, which gives students free admission to all home football and basketball games. The athletics department receives $25 of the $80 cost of the card. Individual teams also hold fundraisers.
In the 2012 school year, gate proceeds dropped to $35,442 from $48,653 in the previous year. Ertola said the decline was due to bad weather at a home football game and the fact that the football game against rival College Park High School was played on that campus. That game alone typically brings in between $8,000 and $12,000, he said.
General donations to the athletics department fell sharply from $18,227 three years ago to $3,458 last school year, district records show. Meanwhile, rising gas prices have pushed transportation costs from about $23,000 in 2011 to $31,764 last year.
To generate more revenue, Ertola said Alhambra is charging for volleyball and soccer games this year, and he is considering charging for all sports.
The school district pays Ertola an annual $8,232 stipend and between $960 and $2,505 to coaches. The district also pays the salary for a full-time accounting technician who spends nearly half her time managing ASB funds. In the 2012 school year, the district spent nearly $130,000 on the athletics program.
The Regional Occupational Program funds the school district's sports medicine program. To earn academic credit for the class, students must work as sports trainers. The ASB and the Alhambra boosters club split the $30,209 stipend for the professional trainer who supervises the students and works the football games.
To provide some budget relief, school board members tentatively agreed Monday that the district should pick up the cost of the trainer's stipend. The board also appointed a subcommittee to review the athletics program budget, explore options to encourage more parents to donate, and analyze the data on the percentage of families who are donating.
Next steps include Ertola and Stubbs working with teams to manage costs, quarterly reviews of ASB athletics reports, investigating how other school districts are funding high school sports and working with the boosters club to reduce the existing deficit.
Lisa P. White covers Martinez and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.