In 2017, taxpayers approved a referendum that gave Indian River School District more money for various needs, including student organizations. Local students are constantly winning state competitions and earning a spot at national’s.
But among the many groups and dozens of kids who traveled to national competition this year, none of them received any funding from that particular student organization budget that the district created.
These aren’t sports teams, either. Many are academic-based groups that align with the student’s actual coursework, like Future Farmers of America, Business Professionals of America, robotics teams and more.
It all began this winter when students began winning their state qualifiers, and coaches started asking the district headquarters for financial help, in addition to the usual fundraising.
Suddenly the school board realized they never laid out specific rules for doling out money, but they wanted to. And in their indecision for how to handle each request, they have not contributed toward any student travel.
“That has not been determined yet,” IRSD Business Director Jan Steele told Coastal Point.
This spring, when teams began requesting funding, Steele suggested a general policy of up to $500 per student, per event.
But instead of approving any funding for students, the school board got bogged down in what their long-term funding policy would be. What would their approach be? What were their funding priorities? Should they pay for student travel, or should that be a matter of fundraising?
“This is supposed to be flexible money that the district would have available as … opportunities for students came up, year to year. But if it’s simply going to be used for travel year after year,” said board member Jim Fritz, concerned that clubs would stop fundraising if they knew easy money was available.
“This may sound cold, but I’m not necessarily concerned about trying to pass something so quick to help the students right now because they’ve been raising money in the past,” Fritz said in April. “I would think they’ve been raising money this year for the trips they were planning.”
But many first-time clubs were surprised to qualify for world finals this year, including several robotics teams and Educators Rising. They were just starting learning how to compete in a new program, never mind anticipating a need to fundraise.
Of course, students are expected to fundraise, but it takes a lot of legs on the ground. Indian River High School routinely qualifies a dozen students for BPA national’s. IRSD has been represented by five teams at once in Odyssey of the Mind world finals.
This month, the board will consider a draft funding procedure. Money would loosely be split between the first and second semesters. Schools would submit a list of all organizations that they feel should be eligible to receive funding support, and those groups would submit budget requests. As in all expenses, the board would make the final decision.
IRSD School Board will discuss this issue further at their monthly board meeting on Monday, June 25, at 7 p.m. at Sussex Central High School.
In the meantime, while the district decides how to dole out money, clubs were feeling the strain.
When it comes to fundraising, “You do what you have to do to get them there” because it’s such a valuable experience, said IRHS counselor Stephanie Wilkinson.
“It is tough to fundraise all hitting the same businesses,” she said. “Fortunately the businesses around here have been very supportive, but you feel bad going back to them constantly asking for more money.”
She’s been on both sides of the table, as a former business owner and teacher advisor of IR’s very successful BPA team.
While there are some state funds for registration and materials, IR School District has been reevaluating how to dole out money for competition and travel expenses. As a result, students who have earned trips to national competition were hitting the pavement harder than ever, requesting grants and donations from local businesses and civic groups.
There are special state funds specifically for career-oriented groups, like FFA and BPA and their nursing or education equivalents. But that only covers supplies, not travel expenses.
According to the 2017 current expense referendum, IRSD would earmark 8 cents of the 49-cent increase for transportation, technology, textbooks and student organizations. This is a general pot for those four needs.
“It’s not broken down individually between those things because there could be a year we do a textbook adoption and we need a million dollars, and we have less money set aside for technology,” said Steele.
“The total we have collected and received as of today is $1,192,460.22,” Steele told Coastal Point in early June.
So far this fiscal year, half a million dollars went toward textbooks, with about $107,000 for bus cameras.
As of May 31, $571,000 remained in the 8 cents account.
“The idea is: one year it might be textbooks, the next year it might be technology, the next year it might be sports equipment … it’s just a matter of where I pull the dollars. … You don’t know from year to year what unexpected expense you might have,” said Steele, whose goal has been to build contingency funds.
By Laura Walter