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October 29, 2011  BY Chris Belcher

Research draws a clear link between engagement outside the classroom and improved student achievement. Recent numbers from Columbia Public Schools reveal more than 40 percent of high school students participate in the many extracurricular opportunities, including fine arts and athletics.

The funding of the fine arts and athletics programs receives a lot of attention in tough budgetary times. It is expensive to field a team, equip a band and travel to competitions. CPS only spends about half of 1 percent of the operating budget on these extracurricular programs. In fact, funding has been reduced consistently during the past three years. This means parents do more fundraising and pay more of the cost of the programs individually. Although this seems reasonable to some, it does create much inequity in program funding. Some booster groups raise large amounts of funding for a program, while other programs are limited. The district has an obligation to maintain comparable programs at all schools. So how can the school district continue to reduce funding to these programs and, at the same time, improve the quality and equity of the programs to all students?

A New Model

The school district has formalized a new model to fund our afterschool athletics and fine arts programs. We have had a promising start this year in working with our local business community to fund program needs through advertising revenue. To date, the district has contracts with local businesses to advertise on scoreboards, in program guides and other media. Revenue of more than $1 million over six years has been successfully contracted. This will allow funding of some of the more expensive items within our facilities as well as various equipment and uniforms. It will also create equity among all sports and fine arts activities as revenue will be divided equally.

The advertising revenue is now coordinated by a single source. This results in businesses only being contacted once, whereas in the past businesses were solicited multiple times by multiple athletics and fine arts fundraising groups. Now parents can focus on their students’ participation in the program and not worry so much about fundraising. Other social types of fundraisers such as hog roasts, pancake breakfasts, reward/discount card sales, etc. are still allowed for all groups, but solicitation for business sponsors for the programs is not allowed.

Video Scoreboards

The first visual evidence of this program is being put into place now. Two new video scoreboards have been purchased and installed at the Rock Bridge and Hickman high school football/soccer stadiums. Battle High School’s scoreboard will be installed closer to the completion of the construction. It has been long overdue to replace the 30-plus-year-old scoreboards. Soccer, football, band and dance performances will be more dynamic for both the students and the fans.

In addition to advertising revenue, the district has entered into single provider contracts with uniform and beverage vendors. This gives the district more negotiation leverage and results in savings for parents and the district. The arrangement will allow the district to manage uniform replacement cycles and equipment needs in a proactive manner without using district funds.

The school district has a vision to be the best school district in the state. This means we have to have the best extracurricular programs in the state. Being the best is an expectation for all programs. CPS academic programs are at the core of what we do and need to be properly resourced. Funding the extracurricular programs with outside revenue is essential to improve and maintain the quality of afterschool programs for students while also protecting the integrity of curriculum and instruction.