SHERIDAN —New programs are coming to Sheridan County School District 1 as of the 2014-2015 school year and though $45,000 is budgeted to cover them, the district said most of that money was already being spent on activities and the overall district budget will not see an increase.
At the SCSD1 May board meeting the final plan to expand the district’s extra curricular offerings was approved and students will now be able to participate in boys and girls soccer, indoor track, cross-country, dance, robotics and middle school wrestling while representing their home schools.
Previously, the district has afforded students the opportunity to compete in soccer, indoor track and cross-country via a combination school agreement with Sheridan County School District 2; however, SCSD1 anticipates participation will increase by keeping the students home due to decreased travel requirements and other factors.
Over the past two years, students and parents have been surveyed for interests and the most recent survey asked students to commit to joining potential new activities.
While only 11 students — for boys and girls from Tongue River High School and Big Horn High School combined — participated in soccer in Sheridan this year through the partnership, 45 students signed up to play next year at home.
SCSD1 Superintendent Marty Kobza said keeping them on home turf offers many other benefits as well, including that they can dictate the playing time.
BHHS and TRHS students attend school Monday through Thursday and the district schedules most activities for Fridays and Saturdays with some Thursday home games as to not interfere with the students’ class schedules.
District 2 soccer games fall on Tuesdays and Thursdays and caused the out-of-district athletes to miss school.
“We try to preserve our Monday through Thursday school week as much as possible and keeping it local will do that,” Kobza said. “The only exception to that will be major events or state-level competitions we don’t have control over.”
District 1 students currently on the soccer roster in Sheridan will be able to finish their high school career with the 4A team, if they choose to.
As long as they were an active participant this year they may make Sheridan their school of choice and stay there, or they may come home. New freshmen and upperclassman who did not compete this year must play through their own school.
The 12 indoor track competitors and one cross-country runner who traveled to Sheridan to compete this year will not be given school of choice by the Wyoming High School Activities Association as they are considered individual sports so they will need to compete on the new teams.
As part of the combination school agreement SCSD2 has, to date, charged SCSD1 $1,000 per student athlete that plays on a Sheridan team with an annual cap of $15,000. That maximum has been reached each year, so keeping these competitors home will save SCSD1 approximately $15,000.
SCSD2 Assistant Superintendent of Instruction and Human Resources Terry Burgess said the charge has averaged out to $468 per student with the number of athletes they have taken in and this charge covers the need for additional assistant coaches and travel costs involved in competitions.
Though SCSD1 has stated that no other district in the state charges a fee for such an arrangement outside of Sheridan, Burgess said that through his association with the WHSAA he has become aware of other districts that charge.
“Some districts have just asked for the students to pay part of the salary or part of the travel costs as they are incurred and that’s not the way we’ve gone about it here,” he said. “We have one of the largest combo agreements in the state. It’s been good for our kids and their kids.”
According to the WHSAA, charges are allowed per the agreements; however, the details are up to the individual partners to negotiate and the agreed upon fees are not reported back to the association.
Burgess said that in addition to picking up students from Tongue River and Big Horn, their own student body participation has grown and they do not believe the withdrawal of the SCSD1 athletes will decrease the number of junior varsity rosters or the number of coaches needed.
“We monitor those numbers every year and we’re willing to add those coaches and schedules if the participation warrants it,” he said. “We often get a call at the beginning of the season saying ‘our numbers are huge and we need another coach’ and we make it happen.”
Some sports including high school wrestling and swimming will continue to combine athletes from the districts in Sheridan.
“Sheridan has been a great partner and we will have things we need to continue participating with them on as well and we appreciate that,” Kobza said. “We just want to go with what will give the students the most opportunities.”
While some sports are being relocated, other activities are brand new all together.
Kobza said it is because of unique challenges with wrestling that only middle school level competition has been added at this point and the high school wrestlers will continue to join Sheridan.
“Wrestling is a unique sport in terms of if you were to dive right in at the high school level with no previous experience it would be very difficult and becomes a safety issue because it is so technical and there could be injuries,” he said. “Most of the interest has come from junior high-level students anyway; this one was a sport that was pushed hard in the surveys from the beginning.”
He added that as the middle school athletes age it is possible to bring them back to represent their own schools.
“Once we have about 10 experienced wrestlers in one class we will look at adding a high school level team,” Kobza said.
Dance is also something that is likely to expand over the years as participation increases.
The dance troupe will begin with performances at halftime of football and basketball games but will not fill the role of a cheer squad or perform in competitions, for now.
“I think dance is an element that’s part of cheer, especially when it comes to small schools, so it could combine to that later but the interest we saw right now was for the dance portion,” Kobza said.
Robotics will be the only non-athletic addition to the offerings and Kobza said it was selected due to its close relation to the district’s current focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics as well as participation in academic competitions such as Destination Imagination.
Lego robotics kits will be brought in for students to design, build and program robots who then compete in obstacle courses.
“What we know is that technology literacy and a basic understanding of what code is, as we go forward, is going to be vital because so much of the world is tech based,” Kobza said. “As far as STEM is concerned, what we know is that kids really learn and retain their learning when there’s relevance. In other words, what I am learning now applies to something in real life so their interest is higher and their ability to learn is higher because it’s not just this abstract idea out there.”
The robotics kits cost a few thousand dollars for each school, which along with the addition of new coaches, accounts for the anticipated budget of $45,000 to fund the activities.
Based on the number of people who said they would participate, it is anticipated the district will need four soccer coaches, two cross-country coaches, four indoor track coaches, two wrestling coaches and two dance coaches.
The soccer teams will be combined from TRHS and BHHS and the remaining teams will be divided by school.
The need for two indoor track coaches per school is not due to participation numbers but rather due to the varied number of events and needing specialists in each.
All of the anticipated coaches would be at head coach level and if participation numbers in any given sport call for it, assistant coaches may need to be added.
The district’s salary schedule pays high school head coaches $4,920 and assistant coaches $3,608 and middle school head coaches $2,460 and assistant coaches $1,804, per season.
The dance coach will have a unique season stretching from fall through winter to perform at basketball and football games but will receive one season’s compensation due to the low number of performances involved in each sport.
Beyond the savings from pulling kids out of Sheridan teams, the district has also redistributed other funds within the district activity budget and administration budgets.
A total of $30,00 was pulled from the district activity budget and divided into the individual schools’ activity budgets and $15,000 was pulled from the central office. Of that, the business manager’s budget, the superintendent’s budget, the curriculum director’s budget and the technology director’s budget were cut.
District 1 Business Manager Jeremy Smith said those budgets were cut for two reasons: they do not directly affect the students needs being met and they were not really getting to use that money to begin with.
In the years past, the activities that have been offered have been very popular and have cost the district more than was originally budgeted so funds have been pulled from these accounts to cover those overages annually.
One example Smith gave was volleyball.
Historically, the district has waited until after try-outs to see if a third coach is needed and annually about 45 or more girls have joined the team, causing that assistant coach to be needed.
“We were spending that money on activities anyway; we were just redistributing from those budgets mid-year and now we’ll do it upfront,” Smith said. “We were already robbing Peter to pay Paul, so let’s just plan on paying Paul this time because that’s why we’re here, to support the kids; so if we have room in those budgets to give up some money to support them we’ll do it.”
Smith said of the $45,000 added to the collective activity budgets, only $15,000 goes above what they were already spending on activities when considering the cost of the partnership with SCSD2 and the typical annual overages of existing programs.
“We’ve got to have a hook, whatever the hook is to get the kid involved in their education,” he added. “I don’t know if you can put a value on that. Whatever gets them totally invested in their school makes them more successful overall so it is worth the investment.”