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A New Approach

An Athletic Accountability Plan helped save some of the Chico (Calif.) Unified School District's sports from being cut--and it revamped the athletic programs' approach to fundraising.  

After many budget cuts were imposed on the Chico (Calif.) Unified School District's athletic department, there were rumors that some of the district's 48 sports teams were next on the cutting block. Rather than facing the potential loss silently, District Assistant Athletic Director Randy Gilzean and one of the district's veteran coaches put together an "Athletic Sustainability Plan," to present to the school board in the spring of 2011.

"When I started as an AD in the district about 20 years ago, we had almost $400,000 at each of our two high schools for everything from equipment to transportation," says Gilzean. "It was all pretty much covered. We've gotten less and less as the years have gone by and it had gotten to the point where the district was giving each high school only $100,000--which wasn't even enough to cover the coaches' salaries.

"One day, I saw Chuck Sheley--who has been in the district for 38 years--and he asked if we could talk about the program's future," Gilzean continues. "So we got together and brainstormed ways to sustain athletics for the next eight to ten years. We were tired of looking at more and more cuts all the time. We wanted to help fix the problem."

The duo drafted a plan and then met with each school board member individually to ensure its intent was understood before it was brought to the table. "They were looking at cutting all freshman and j.v. teams, or all of the non-gate sports," Gilzean says. "Those were the two options they had in front of them at the time. We wanted to offer a third choice."

That third choice was eventually called the Athletic Accountability Plan, which went into effect in August 2011. Under the plan, the district funds the coaches' salaries and all costs associated with league games. Coaches are held accountable for adherence to their budget allocation, and they must fundraise to cover non-league contest costs. The system ensures all sports are funded equally and that coaches do not spend over their budget.
 
Coaches are expected to get their team's input on the number of games it wants to play and to plan fundraisers that cover the expenses. "I think everybody has more buy-in to the whole process now," Gilzean says. "The student-athletes understand where the program's money goes because they're making decisions on how it's spent, and the coaches feel the responsibility of staying within their budget.
 
"Previously in our district, some coaches seemed to feel that everyone else should pay their teams' expenses. If the school denied a request for funding, the coaches would turn to the boosters," he continues. "Now we're all working together to achieve the same goal and it's much better. The booster club has an agreement with local auto dealerships to raffle off a new car every year, so that's a big fundraiser. And each team has the option of selling tickets for that. If they want to do it, that's an easy way to get their efforts started."
 
Along with the car raffle, other popular fundraisers within the district include sports clinics and dinners ranging from a spaghetti or crab feed to a gala event. "The plan has really brought a community process idea to the whole aspect of athletics," Gilzean says. "We're not asking parents to fundraise a lot--it's more the students and coaches who are doing the fundraising. There are all kinds of things they do, but the key thing is that we're holding events that give something back--like improved skills from participating in a clinic, or a meal from a dinner--instead of just asking for a strict donation. I think it works much better for everyone this way."



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