ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — One aspect of New Mexico’s School Athletics Equity Act continues to befuddle the masses.
What to do about booster clubs for high school sports? And how can gender equity be obtained within the structure of such a complex framework?
“It’s very, very complex,” said Albuquerque Public Schools athletic director Kenny Barreras.
That is the one overriding truth that emerges about this topic — the sheer enormity of the task ahead.
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Among the issues on the table:
⋄ Does there need to be one uniform policy to govern all booster clubs?
⋄ Is there a problem for schools that have both individual booster club accounts and school-supervised activity funds?
⋄ Can individual booster clubs actually be penalized for raising too much money for a specific sport, and might they have to share with others?
⋄ How exactly is “equity” defined when it comes to spending money on boys athletics vs. girls athletics? And does there have to be an exact dollar-for-dollar match in spending between boys and girls?
If, for example, someone cuts a check for $5,000 to the Hobbs boys basketball program for new uniforms, must the school immediately do the same for the girls? If so, is that unfair to booster clubs working on behalf of one sport?
Or, say that a high school wants to re-sod the outfields of its baseball field and softball field. Naturally, it will cost more to do the baseball field which has a larger landmass. Is that unfair to girls?
“Anytime money is given to athletics, whether it’s coming from booster clubs or somewhere else, I think it needs to be accounted for,” said Pamelya P. Herndon, executive director of the Southwest Women’s Law Center in Albuquerque.
The SAEA was passed in 2009, and the guidelines as they pertain to booster clubs are fairly conversational in nature.
The SAEA talks about creating expectations and guidelines in terms of policy, and there is even a reference to schools becoming compliant with their postseason banquets. However, there are no black-and-white instructions on how booster clubs should be managed financially, or how this plays out with a nod toward gender equity.
“Booster clubs were considered quite a bit,” said Herndon when asked about the SAEA. “That was a big focal point (for us). There’s nothing wrong with transparency.”
One of the SAEA’s goals is to see to it that boys and girls sports programs receive equal treatment and benefits, irrespective of where the money originates. That includes monies raised by booster clubs.
“However that is done, I’m not quite sure,” said Herndon. “It’s not very specific.”
Therein lies one important rub. Because the act lacks specificity, there are numerous ways in which booster clubs are being handled.
It is not feasible, Herndon said, to have one umbrella policy to serve all New Mexico high schools. The goal, she said, was to compel schools to show how they’re spending money on athletics.
By Aug. 31, as part of the SAEA requirement, schools must report to the Public Education Department how they have spent on individual sports programs. That includes an account of all booster club funds.
The extensiveness of the reporting is a new venture for all concerned.
“This is the first year we’ve had an accounting,” said La Cueva athletic director Larry Waters. “It’s the first time we’ve seen the raw data. Once we get through this year, there may be things that are out of balance, since it’s our first go-round. Once we look at the finances, then we can make adjustments for the future.”
Schools do not have to demonstrate a dollar-for-dollar match in spending between the genders, Herndon said —merely that both genders were treated equitably.
Still, there appears to be mass confusion. Herndon admits that this issue is a work in progress, and many schools and school districts are uncertain about how this might pan out going forward.
“It’s going to be a huge nightmare,” opined Cibola High girls basketball coach Lori Stephenson.
The X’s and O’s of the SAEA, as they pertain to booster clubs, are extraordinarily complex simply because of the myriad ways in which booster clubs are being administered.
“I’m skeptical about that whole deal,” said longtime Manzano volleyball coach Carol Barnitz, who is coming up on her 41st season with the Monarchs and is one of the few people in New Mexico who was a head coach when Title IX was first enacted in 1972. “I just don’t see how that’s gonna work.”
So far, there has been very little movement in terms of how booster clubs are being operated.
Some schools disperse money from specialized, school-supervised accounts to individual sports, with money generated by booster club efforts.
Many schools retain individual booster club accounts in addition to a school activity fund. It’s sort of like having both a checking and savings account, albeit with contrasting oversight measures. The booster club accounts are under the purview of that club’s board of directors.
Some schools are a mix and match. Sandia and Cibola, for instance, feature a bit of both. There are multiple applications.
Formats come in all shape and sizes. APS for one does not yet have an umbrella policy.
“The school district is looking for some type of consistency as far as booster clubs and fundraising,” said Barreras. “We’re not yet there, though.”
And, he added, there are no formal recommendations for the upcoming school year.
“My sense is that we would continue to operate as we have, which allows the schools some autonomy as to how they want to conduct their fundraising activities and their booster club activities,” Barreras said.
APS has 13 high schools, each with vastly different communities, interests and goals.
Valley High is one that decided to centralize its booster club activities. While booster clubs remain in the sense that they raise money, any funds those clubs generate go into a sport-specific fund that is overseen by the school. Requests to tap into that account must go through the school’s bookkeeper and be approved by the principal.
This is fairly standard procedure within APS. Eldorado, West Mesa and Albuquerque High are also following this template.
“We wanted to be proactive and to get ahead of the equity act,” Eldorado principal Martin Sandoval said. “We wanted to have oversight and be the controlling agent and understand what was being spent.”
Ultimately, Sandoval said, he is responsible for ensuring that Eldorado is Title IX compliant and believed this is a more effective method.
“It’s not taking anything away from the booster clubs,” he said.
AHS was one of the first to centralize.
“We felt like we’d be able to monitor it a little closer, keeping it within the school,” AHS athletic director Doug Dorame said, echoing Sandoval.
Not everyone has gone this route. La Cueva, in fact, has arguably the most expansive booster club system of any school.
La Cueva has a school activity fund, in which each sport has a monetary balance from which to draw. But it also retains all its individual booster clubs, which have separate accounts.
The booster club fund parameters require only that the club’s board of directors approve purchase requests. But La Cueva’s administration is still paying strict attention to how they spend and what they’re spending money on.
Waters said La Cueva requires clubs to submit their annual budgets and projected spending. The school has the power to financially hamstring any booster club that is spending unwisely, Waters said.
“In those reviews, if it (their spending) is out of line, then it may be curtailed,” Waters said.
Atrisco Heritage Academy offers yet another variation. AHA has a school activity fund for each sport. But where it departs from those like Valley and Eldorado: coaches are responsible for doing their own fundraising, athletic director Adrian Ortega said. There are no parent-supervised booster clubs for Atrisco, he added.
Herndon said schools, at the end of the school year, must show only that they have spent equitably. They are not required to spend the exact same amount on both genders.
“The stickier wicket is the booster club issue,” outgoing Moriarty athletic director Joe Butler said of Title IX/SAEA. “I think it’ll take a little time. The heart of the whole issue is one simple fact, and it’ll come out every time. It’s the reluctance of schools to go to an umbrella booster club which restricts the way money will be spent.”
Individual donations to booster clubs can be problematic. As for the example of $5,000 to the Hobbs boys basketball program for new uniforms, the school can find a way to provide the girls with uniforms, as well. Or, it can disperse $5,000 and spend the money across multiple girls programs. It does not necessarily have to be basketball, and it doesn’t necessarily have to include uniforms. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be exactly $5,000, for that matter.
“You must make sure there has been equitable spending on some program for the girls (by the end of that calendar year),” Herndon said.
Sally Marquez, an associate director with the New Mexico Activities Association, said when there is an imbalance financially, a common way to address the situation is for a school to take some operational money away from the program that received a private donation and “give it to the girls.”
Schools have other options as well. They could refuse the individual donation, for fear of the gender equity complications that would arise. They could put the money into a sport-specific account, which would allow that sport to curtail its fundraising efforts. The school could also insist that the money be divided equally between boys and girls programs before accepting.
And for the example of a school choosing to re-sod the outfields of its baseball field and (smaller) softball fields, that school is Title IX compliant so long as the girls’ facility is receiving a comparable upgrade, even if there is not a dollar-for dollar-match.
Sharing the wealth?
A concern by some is that the SAEA will ultimately prove to be unnecessarily penal to the philanthropic endeavors of booster clubs that work on behalf of a specific sport. In short, a worry exists that other sports could dip into their pockets, so to speak, without having done similar legwork.
This does not appear to be part of the conversation. For the aforementioned APS high schools that are using school-administered accounts, whatever money a specific booster club raises, it can be utilized only by that sport. Other sports cannot leach onto that account and siphon money away.
The Southwest Women’s Law Center will analyze the data sometime later this year, then go back to non-compliant schools — that is, schools spending a disproportionate amount on boys programs in relation to girls — with recommendations on how to remedy their problem. Title IX guidelines also are applied when schools are spending more on girls than the boys, a little-known fact about the federal law.
“It’s really hard to regulate booster clubs,” AHS’s Dorame said.
Added La Cueva’s Waters: “I don’t think it’s (the law center) that’s looking for school equity here. It is the school itself.”