The activities budget for Sitka High School may have reached a tipping point — and it could force the end of some programs.

The Sitka School Board heard a report from activities director LieuDell Goldsberry earlier this month. Between the recent addition of several new activities and a reduction in district spending, most programs have seen a cut of at least 40-percent over two years.

Downloadable audio.

Read LieuDell Goldsberry’s activities funding report to the Sitka School board here.

Sitka High senior Josh Risko moves the ball downfield during a May 2011 game against Thunder Mountain. The recent addition of sports like soccer has put pressure on the activities budget. (KCAW file photo by Berett Wilber)

Sitka High senior Josh Risko moves the ball downfield during a May 2011 game against Thunder Mountain. The recent addition of sports like soccer has put pressure on the activities budget. (KCAW file photo by Berett Wilber)

The activities budget in the Sitka School District is beginning to look like a perfect storm. Increased fundraising efforts on the part of teams, combined with the widespread adoption of participation fees, have masked the extent of the problem.

But at the school board’s regular December meeting, the mask came off.

“Each sport is going to have to fundraise year round,” says LieuDell Goldsberry, who is in his first year as activities director at Sitka High. His budget was cut by $35,000 from his predecessor’s, to about $132,000.

“If we continue to stay at our current level, with the district giving us $132,000 and $10,000 for uniforms, my thought was: We’re going to have to cut at least three activities if we want to fund our activities at $10,000.”

That $10,000 figure is significant. Only two years ago, each of Sitka High’s activities was receiving exactly $10,000 from the district. Sports like Football, Swimming, Basketball, and Volleyball each got $10,000 from the district, as did activities like Music and Drama & Debate.

Last year, the high school added two new activities, girls’ and boys’ soccer. The district cut its allocation to $8,500 per activity, but the overall activity budget still rose, to over $177,000.

This year that budget has been slashed, and every activity is getting only $6,000.

Goldsberry says participants, families, and the community are taking up the slack — well beyond the season for any given activity.

“So we’ve got Cross-Country. They start in the fall. They’re going to have to fundraise in the fall. They’re going to have to fund raise in the spring. Think about it. In the spring we have Softball, Baseball, and Track & Field. If the Cross-Country team is fundraising in the spring, you’re pitting the different sports against each other.”

But it’s not just the addition of two more sports that’s straining the budget. Goldsberry displayed a spreadsheet showing the variety of things under “activities,” including $25,000 to pay referees, and $11,000 for uniforms and equipment.

Participation fees are also up. Goldsberry said the fees at best create a burden on families, and at worst, aggravate economic disparities that are not supposed to exist in public schools.

He presented data showing typical per-student participation fees running up to $350. A four-activity student may pay around $1,200.

Those who can pay, that is. Goldsberry says students are sitting out — for the wrong reasons.

“A high school kid is more ashamed to go tell the coach that, I don’t have the money. It’s embarrassing.”

Goldsberry urged the board — at the very least — to reverse the downward slide in the activities budget, and restore funding to last year’s levels.

“It’s not a fix, believe me. It’s not a fix to our problem. Our problem is, How can we sustain our current activities with the money that the district has given us? That’s the problem that you as board members need to solve. You have to go to the city. You have to ask those questions.”

Board member Cass Pook said she felt especially frustrated, because the board had gone to the city. And although the city increased its contribution to schools this year, it still doesn’t fund schools up to the full amount allowed under state law.

Last year board member Tim Fulton tried to pull together a public committee to discuss activities funding. Two former activities directors — Mike Vieira and Lyle Sparrowgrove — both attended, but few others.

Sparrowgrove told the board that things did not seem so bad at the time.

“I don’t know if we felt as much urgency as we maybe needed too. We met, we talked, we discussed lots of ideas. But I have a sense of more urgency now than ever before.”

Board member Tim Fulton was interested in attacking the problem again. “We’ve done a couple of things that have created the perfect storm here. Now that the waves are bigger, there might be more people willing to work with us.”

The school board budget process will begin in the early spring next year.