Extra pay to coaches from booster clubs

As of Dec. 31, the Mercer Island High School football and gymnastics coaches could be earning a little extra money, thanks to a supplemental contract.

The issue, brought up during the Sept. 8 Mercer Island School District Board meeting, would give the two coaches extra money for offseason duties, provided by the sports booster clubs. The board conditionally approved the contracts after a lengthy discussion.

Under the agreement, the football booster club and the gymnastics parent club would provide funds to the coaches for out of season activities, which help promote the programs and prepare younger students.

However, football boosters cannot provide money to the coach unless the girls gymnastics team raises a similar amount. It all has to do with Title IX.

Title IX is a 1972 federal law that requires equal opportunities for males and females at institutions that receive public funds.

The football boosters originally brought the idea forward in May, but the proposal only included funds for football, which would have put the district out of compliance with Title IX. After revamping the proposal to include gymnastics, it was reintroduced.

The difference in total amounts given to the two sports results in the difference in size between the programs.

Districts around the state must comply with the federal law and there is currently an investigation into the issue at the state’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction after hundreds of complaints were filed in the last year.

The MIHS football boosters have set aside $5,000 to give to head coach Brett Ogata for duties outside of his regular coaching requirements. In the agreement, the booster club has outlined that the coach will work with the junior varsity and sophomore teams, conduct individualized meetings with younger players for long-term player development, and attend youth football games, among other activities.

“The thing to remember about football, unlike pretty much any other sport, is that there isn’t a select season,” said Pete Higgins, the treasurer of the football booster club. “We felt like this was an appropriate opportunity to help Coach Ogata.”

For head gymnastics coach Leonard Lewis, the club would pay him $500 plus a gift of $2,000 to the MIHS ASB fund for the program.

In the gymnastics agreement, Lewis would be required to develop and expand the plans for the new season this winter, work with JV and varsity members to identify key skills and provide some training to the MIHS cheerleading squad, among other activities.

Lewis said some aspects of the agreement still need to be ironed out, like working with the cheerleaders, because many are on the gymnastics team, and any work with them outside the season would be a violation of Washington Interscholastic Activities Association rules.

The agreement is contingent on the $2,000 gift from the gymnastics group to be raised and paid to the district by Dec. 31. If the funds are not raised, the agreement will be voided, as the school would not be in compliance with Title IX.

“We’re kind of putting our toe in the water,” said school board member Pat Braman. “There are a number of coaches who put in time out of season. This is going to be interesting to see how it works.”

Lewis said the gymnastics group is fundraising by working at the concession stand during football games this fall, and he doesn’t feel that there will be any issue getting the money in time.

Pete Higgins, who is the treasurer for the football booster club, and the gymnastics group have staffed the concession stand for the last several seasons, and it has worked very well.

The conditional approval from the MISD board requires: that the Mercer Island Classified Education Association provides consent, that it complies with the WIAA rules (23.1.1 in the WIAA Handbook), authorization by the board that the employees’ receipt of compensation is from a third party for work involved with their coaching duties, and that there is no conflict of interest.

The board also required that the funds are in place for gymnastics by Dec. 31, and that both coaches get liability insurance like other independent contractors with the district are required to have.

Braman said the insurance condition was added by the board, despite an insurance clause already existing in the agreements because the board wanted it to be stronger.

“Some didn’t think it was worded strongly enough,” said Braman.

There was also some concern from the board based on what has happened in other districts in the past. There was a WIAA investigation in the mid-2000’s into the Bellevue football program, after it was discovered that the booster club there was giving an excess of $50,000 to their head coach. While the practice of providing stipends is not unusual, Braman said they didn’t want it to be excessive.

“It’s been a long process,” said Lewis of the whole thing. “It’s all so legal now, to get approval to do something that used to happen all the time.”

The coaches, MIHS athletic director Craig Olson and Superintendent Gary Plano recently held a meeting to discuss the agreements before signing.


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