Portland, under Title IX scrutiny, to consolidate school sports booster clubs

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PORTLAND — Separate booster clubs for each varsity team sport will become a thing of the past next year under a School Department proposal to replace them with one club per high school.

Sports booster clubs, often run by parents of students participating in each sport, raise money to purchase uniforms, pay for travel and other team necessities.

But because some teams, such as football, are often more popular with donors, the booster programs have drawn criticism from civil rights groups, including the federal Office of Civil Rights. They say boys’ teams receive more support than girls’ teams, a violation of the federal Title IX law, which bans gender discrimination in schools.

Changes to the booster program have been studied for more than four years.

Last year, after a legal analysis of the Portland Public Schools’ Title IX compliance found the booster programs were inequitable, the School Board decided it needed to address funding all sports teams.

The new policy would create two sports booster clubs, one for Portland High School and one for Deering High School. All fundraising done by the boosters would be split equitably between all the teams. The proposed changes do not apply to music, arts, drama and other booster-supported activities.

Superintendent James C. Morse Sr. said the proposal before the School Board is in its early stages and that he would like to spend the summer meeting with booster parents and sports coaches to discuss the impact the change could have on their fundraising and programming.

Morse said he does not expect funding to decline.

“Cheverus does it, Biddeford does it,” he said. “It’s not unheard of to have one booster.”

Part of the proposal also creates a new position to oversee the booster programs and Title IX compliance. It would be funded without using taxpayer money and would be expected to raise $100,000 in 2012 for athletics, increasing that amount by $100,000 per year until 2015.

Deering High School field hockey coach Marcia Wood said she does not sense inequities in the current booster program.

“The boys’ sports bring in a lot more at the gates,” she said. “Football has a lot more money and they need a lot more money.”

Wood said her boosters program last year raised enough money to fund half the cost of new uniforms, compensation for preseason game officials, and some equipment and gear for the approximately 50 girls on her team.

“I know (the boys’ teams) have more money, but they have a booster group that’s more involved,” Wood said. “They demand a lot more. I probably could have more if I wanted to spend the time fundraising. But we’re a pretty simple group. We don’t demand a lot.”

Morse said equity is different than equality, as far as funds are concerned.

“For football, the equipment is more expensive. That’s recognized,” he said. “It’s about equity of opportunity.”

Others are concerned about how smaller teams will fit into the plans.

“We’re the only team that has a pay-to-play system,” said sailing team booster member Susan Salomon.

Salomon said sailors have to pay $500 per season for the two-season sport, plus the cost of a drysuit, required for spring sailing.

But Morse said the sailing program is not technically a varsity sport, and would therefore continue its own booster program, rather than being rolled into the PHS booster club.

The new rules would also require that all gifts to athletic programs be split equally among the sports programs, rather than be directed to a certain sport or team. Bifts of equipment or supplies that could create inequities between teams will no longer be accepted.

“If a team wanted to buy a flat-screen TV to watch their games, it would not be just that team’s flat screen,” Morse said. “It would be available for all the teams to use.”

The school district is being reviewed by the federal Office of Civil Rights as part of the office’s random review of districts across the country. Morse said the district is already out of compliance with Title IX because the federal government does not recognize cheerleading as a sport, while Portland does.

The civil rights office is expected to provide the district with a report of its findings later this year.

PHS football coach Mike Bailey did not respond to a request for comment.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @emilyparkhurst.