Points of Order

Points of Order

County Schools clarify procedures for high school athletic booster clubs.

More than half of Winston Churchill High School's athletic budget comes from its booster clubs. Doug Brown, the president of the Churchill Booster Club, said that of the approximately $280,000 that was spent on the Churchill athletic department last year, nearly $160,000 of that came from the Churchill Booster Club and the Brian Song Foundation, the latter of which raises money for Churchill's football team. The difference came from the school system.

"That’s a big difference," Brown said.

New county-wide regulations and guidelines are likely to change the way booster clubs operate and support their schools' athletic programs.

A new page in this year’s edition of the Montgomery County Public Schools High School Athletic Handbook is intended to clarify the procedures surrounding the operations of athletic booster clubs. The added page comes after a year of discussion among high school principals and other school officials.

AN INTERNAL AUDIT of Winston Churchill High School earlier this year revealed, among other accounting irregularities, a fundraising golf outing and dinner held for the Churchill football team that included distribution and consumption of alcoholic beverages. The event violated county school policies by serving alcohol at a school-related function and by raising money for only one athletic team. County policy dictates that any donations to a school’s athletic department be distributed evenly to all teams, said Larry Bowers, chief operating officer for the county’s schools.

The annual golf event hosted by the Brian Song Foundation is an example of the confusion that had surrounded athletic fundraising, said Duke Beattie, the Director of Systemwide Athletics for Montgomery County Public Schools.

The newly clarified guidelines were already being worked on prior to the Churchill audit, Beattie said.

"Equity — that’s the critical message," said Bowers of the guidelines. The purpose of the clarification is to ensure that boosters operate within Title IX regulations as well as MCPS guidelines.

The increased emphasis on equity will change how outside organizations other than booster clubs operate.

That will apply particularly to organizations that raise money for individual sports teams such as the Brian Song Foundation, a group that raises money for Churchill’s football team each year in honor of Brian Song (Churchill ’98) who died in 2003. Previously, the foundation had held a charity golf event and banquet each August and had donated the proceeds directly to Churchill to benefit the football team, Bowers said.

"With permission from the athletic booster club and principal, individual team support groups may exist as auxiliary organizations under the umbrella and direction of the larger athletic booster club. The combined support provided by the athletic booster club, including auxiliary support groups, must be equitable for all teams and genders," according to the new guidelines. "Auxiliary or support groups must operate under the sponsorship and with the permission of the athletic booster club and principal, and all activities and funds must be funneled through and approved by the athletic booster club and principal (or designee)."

"We’ve been trying to clarify with our principals that when they get booster club funds that that is how they’re going to be spent," said Bowers.

This year’s Brian Song event scheduled for Monday, Aug. 13, will operate as it has in years past with donations going to the football team. But this will be the last time it does so, Bowers said. From that point on, proceeds raised by the foundation will be run through the Winston Churchill High School Booster Club.

"It won’t be for the event coming up simply because they were way down the road [with the event planning] by the time the new rules were finalized," said Brown, president of the Churchill Booster Club.

THE INCREASED emphasis on enforcing the guidelines under which booster groups operate will present challenges both to the groups and to school principals.

A statement posted on the Thomas S. Wootton High School booster club’s Web page acknowledged the difficulties of navigating such waters.

"[The new guidelines] will present new challenges and responsibilities for the Wootton High School Booster Club, as the primary fundraising organization for all Wootton athletic teams."

"I think the majority of schools, they were fine," said Beattie. "I think other schools, in the absence of clarity, weren’t doing so fine. And I think other schools, clarity or not, were going to do it however they wanted."

That, said Beattie, will no longer be the case as all schools and boosters will have clear guidelines to follow.

The key to making the increased emphasis on the regulations stick will be a matter of how well the standards are enforced by the school system, said Steve Abrams (Dist. 2) of the Montgomery County Board of Education.

"You can do whatever you want in terms of regulations, handbooks, guidelines, etc., but you still have to hold people accountable. Hopefully some of the schools have gotten the message that we’re taking this seriously," said Abrams.

That accountability will apply directly to school principals and business managers, who are charged with ensuring proper administration of school funds and donations.

"The oversight has been there [previously], what hasn’t been there is there hasn’t been any teeth to it," Abrams said. "This is going to count on evaluations on principals and business managers."

HIGH SCHOOL booster clubs in Montgomery County donate to their respective schools by reimbursing the schools for specific purchases or services, according to county regulations.

"Athletic booster clubs are of great potential benefit to a school and an athletic program," according to last week’s memorandum. "However, in the absence of consistent standards, athletic booster clubs can be divisive and counterproductive to the goals of the school and school system."

The new rules aim to curb such potential pitfalls, said Bowers.

Beattie said that many booster clubs are organized as 501c-3 non-profit groups, but not all. Beattie said that he did not know if all of the county’s high schools have booster clubs, but not all schools receive strong booster support.

"One thing for darn sure is that they provide varying degrees of support," said Beattie.

Brown said that he thinks that is part of a larger issue that needs to be addressed by the school system.

Schools such as Churchill that draw from largely affluent populations are fortunate to have strong support from their booster clubs, Brown said. Other schools in less affluent areas often do not have booster clubs, or they have clubs that cannot donate nearly enough to adequately fund all the athletic teams.

Funding athletic programs is a challenge for the school system, Bowers said, particularly when it comes to field maintenance, a historically low priority in county school spending.

"We do field maintenance, but we just don’t really have the funds to maintain fields the way they need to be maintained," Bowers said.

Such shortfalls hurt schools in poorer areas the most, Brown said.

"That, to me, is an issue."