Does athletic fundraising advocate 'pay to play'?
Does athletic fundraising advocate 'pay to play'?
NORTH PROVIDENCE - It has become almost as routine as the sports themselves - student athletes committing to sell raffle tickets during the season to fund extras not paid for by the district, like jackets, plaques and scholarships.
In North Providence, one particular raffle that asks athletes to sell five $10 tickets has been going on for more than a decade.
But after being asked to purchase a ticket himself, School Committee member Stephen Palmieri is calling the practice into question, concerned that selling is mandatory and promotes a "pay to play" model.
"I was told they didn't have to sell them, but that's not true. There's a lot of pressure put on these kids to sell these tickets," Palmieri said, adding that he does not want the burden to fall to parents, who he said usually end up shelling out the $50.
Athletic Director Glenn Williams, who was in attendance at the School Committee meeting on Sept. 25, emphatically disagreed, holding up a contract signed by athletes each year that says they can choose not to sell the tickets.
"No one's ever been held from playing," he said.
The raffle is completely voluntary, said Williams, explaining that students have not sold all of the tickets in the past, without any consequences.
School Committee member Rod DaSilva said that his son, who participated in band and four years of three sports each year at North Providence High School, regularly sold raffle tickets, and never talked about kids being kept off the field because of an inability to sell.
"I don't believe anybody's being told they can't play. I've never heard it," DaSilva said. "I don't think any coach here would do that. I just don't believe it."
Money raised from tickets is used entirely in that year, Williams explained, and not used to pad the athletic account.
Finance Director John McNamee said last year, for the 2012-2013 school year and sports seasons, the $16,430 raised from ticket sales funded:
* Raffle prizes - $3,000.
* Printing raffle tickets - less than $90.
* Athletic banquets, with a free meal per athlete - $2,400.
* MVP plaques, for each coach's one athlete of choice - $224.
* Scholarship for the male and female who played in the most seasons in four years, with the highest academic averages - $2,000 total.
* Donation for post-prom activities for both the junior and senior class - $1,000 total.
* Paying for the meals of athletes who attend the National Honor Society banquet - $986.
* Donation to Project Close Up, a nonprofit civic engagement organization that takes students on trips to Washington, D.C. - $500.
* Championship rings for the cheerleading and softball teams - $5,114.
The total amount spent was $16,124, McNamee said, leaving about $300 left over for that year, and $6,713 total left over from past years' raffles. Williams said he "can't guarantee" that without the raffle, the remaining money in the athletic account could fund these expenses.
McNamee said the athletic department had $152,333, as of June 30, in cash accounts. Of that, $142,706 was made up of four funds: leftover raffle money, concessions, tournaments and gate receipts.
Concessions brought in $42,335 last year, McNamee said, and a tournament fund totals $28,748. Funds used to pay for capital improvements have always come out of money earned through gate receipts, he said, which currently total $64,910.
While not a mandated use, Williams said he has operated under that policy since he was hired, under the advice of the former financial director. It is never used to fund extras currently funded by the raffle, he said.
"I don't touch the gate receipt money," Williams said. "It's not my money to touch. I'm a firm believer in not taking that money. That's taxpayer money."
Those funds have been used to upgrade athletic facilities, like basketball courts, over the past few years. Williams, the high school football coach, said he has saved football field upgrades for last so as not to appear biased.
Palmieri praised Williams' money management skills, calling Williams "the most honest person in the world" and crediting him with "saving money like there's no tomorrow."
McNamee also commented to The Breeze about how Williams handles the fund: "He's impeccable in terms of accounting. He puts the money in the right bucket. There's no real concern about it."
But Palmieri questioned whether that money should be used to fund other programs, like a middle school soccer team for $10,000, before Williams noted that he is not in charge of middle school funds, and said he does not want to spend the savings for spending's sake.
Still, Palmieri maintained, "I don't see a need for fundraising."
McNamee said it is unclear whether previous committees have restricted the use of each athletic account for a specific purpose, but if they did, it is something that the current School Committee would have the power to change.
Some restrictions, like an individual team's booster money staying within that sport, should stay, he said, but major projects should come out of the overall budget.
McNamee said he will look into the purpose of each account. Going forward, Williams could put any of the discussed expenses into his annual budget, McNamee said, if it is the will of the Committee.
Regardless of the School Committee's feelings about a certain fundraiser, raffles are controlled by the Rhode Island State Police, School Committee member Donald Cataldi pointed out, so the Committee cannot regulate them.
"I understand part of what you're trying to do, Steve," Cataldi said. "I kind of don't agree with restricting or micromanaging how the money is spent."
He asked Williams whether any child or team has ever gone without something in favor of saving money, to which he replied, "No."
"So my question is, where is the wrong-doing?" Cataldi said. "It's not up to us to approve a raffle, it's up to the State Police."
Because the current raffle has earned that approval, it will continue unchanged, School Committee Chairman Anthony Marciano said, while the School Committee works on a plan for overall procedures and protocols for facilities funds, and guidance for future fundraising.