School bus ads may be part of Portland sports booster funding

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PORTLAND — The School Department is moving ahead with changes to its sports booster policy, and is also considering selling advertising on school buses to support the programs.

The department met with sports booster groups and coaches last week to discuss the pending changes, but the turnout was not great – approximately 20 people at a Deering High School meeting and 15 at Portland High School.

The new policy would create one booster group for each school with an oversight committee made up of one parent or adult representative from each sport at each level, one at-large member, the school’s athletic director, the chief financial officer and the director of a new nonprofit foundation created to raise money for sports and extracurricular activities in the district.

That committee would handle all team requests for items traditionally covered by booster clubs, including equipment, uniforms and end-of-season banquet celebrations. It would also manage all the finances.

The plan would also create a nonprofit organization to raise money, primarily from area businesses, to support the district’s sports and extra-curricular activities.

The changes are scheduled to take effect this fall, although the time-line could be adjusted if the district runs into any stumbling blocks.

Superintendent of Schools James C. Morse Sr. said the change from separate sports boosters to one program per school would help the district deal with equity issues between boys and girls teams.

“It’s about equity of opportunity, not about equal,” Morse said.

The PHS football team, for example, Morse said, would receive more funding than the PHS field hockey team, because the football team involves more students and requires more costly equipment than the field hockey team.

But, the girls teams should have proper changing rooms where they practice and access to the basic amenities they need as a team, just like the boys do, he said.

Currently, several girls teams practice at Payson Park, where they do not have access to the same quality of facilities the boys enjoy at Fitzpatrick Stadium.

Additionally, Morse said he would like to see as much of the cost of running sports and extra-curricular activities removed from the city’s tax rolls as possible.

“We have talked about the issue of advertising,” Morse said.

School buses on their way to sports or extra-curricular events with advertisements on the side that read: “This bus sponsored by … ” are a possibility for the future, Morse said.

“It has to be tasteful,” he said. “But yes, I do see that as Portland’s future.”

Morse said he would like to see opportunities like that come out of the proposed nonprofit organization being created to support Portland’s sports and extra-curricular programs.

While the School Board declined to approve the first year of funding for a director to lead the nonprofit foundation, the application for the foundation’s tax-exempt status has already been filed. Morse said he expects it to be created by fall.

But not all the stakeholders are on board.

“It may (work) down the road, but in the interim, the kids are going to lose,” said Deering girls’ basketball booster President Richard Kennedy.

Kennedy, who has been part of the booster club for three years, said the organization has suspended all its usual summer fundraising because it is concerned its money will be funneled to other teams.

“Nothing has been clarified with those meetings,” he said.

Kennedy said he doesn’t buy that this is about equity, and is concerned that shifting the burden of supporting sports teams over to local businesses is short-sighted.

“This is a small community. There aren’t that many big businesses,” he said. “This is going to hurt fall sports, and probably spring sports, too. I haven’t spoken to one parent in favor of this.”

Girls’ lacrosse booster President Patrick Flaherty, however, supports the proposed changes.

“I like the fact that it’s very, very visible,” Flaherty said of the proposed booster committees.

He said his booster club would not do anything differently, and would continue to raise money for the general booster fund.

“I understand the difference between equitable and equal,” he said. “Safety comes first, self-esteem, second and nice-to-haves, third.”

The second draft of the booster consolidation plan will be discussed at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 1 at the Portland High School auditorium and 6:30 p.m. Aug. 2 at the Deering High School cafeteria.

There will be a public meeting where the draft plan will be presented to the School Board on Aug. 30 at 6:30 p.m. at Casco Bay High School.

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