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Title IX | Mercer Island School District proposes unified booster club

Nearly a year after the Mercer Island School District conducted a Title IX compliance report, the athletic department is already undergoing transition. Determined to meet all athletic equity standards between girls’ and boys’ sports, Mercer Island High School Athletic Director Craig Olson is speaking to coaches, parents and teachers about changes that must be implemented to meet Title IX law.

The intent of Title IX, a federal statute, is to ensure that girls and boys have equal athletic opportunity in grades K-12 and in higher education.

According to the MISD Title IX report, the school district’s most obvious trouble-spot — athletic booster clubs — is also its most contentious. Equalizing funds raised through the existing booster clubs, each geared exclusively toward its own team, will not be easy.

“A lot of people do not understand that booster money is considered ASB money, and therefore public money. If there’s more coming in for boys’ than girls’ sports, this results in Title IX non-compliance,” Olson explained.

Boys’ football, basketball and baseball, he pointed out, receive far more funding than girls’ teams. Other sports teams lack well-organized booster clubs entirely.

“Right now, out of 24 varsity sports, we have 22 booster clubs or parent support groups. Some are well-organized and others are just parent get-togethers,” the athletic director said. “There’s no equity now on who gets what. This needs to change.”

Olson has an answer: one centralized booster club for all high school sports. It is a solution that many King County schools are turning to. Interlake and Mount Si High School already have schoolwide booster clubs in place. Olson hopes MIHS will be next. Yet he admits that the idea is not a popular one.

“Various members of booster clubs are concerned. They like to have their own identity and control,” he said, adding that many parents do not realize that the funds they raise for a particular boys’ team — well-meaning such intentions may be — offset the school’s athletic equity model.

In order to raise awareness about the often complicated rules of Title IX, Olson has asked advisor Dick Langum of Canfield and Associates, the district’s insurance agency, to speak at a meeting in January on booster club funding and the potential breaches of Title IX. “We don’t want to stop sports team funding; we just want to make sure it’s done in a legal, ethical way,” Olson said.

Yet some booster club parents are skeptical of the idea.

Pattie Reutimann, parent liaison for the girls’ gymnastics and cheer booster clubs, said parents involved have met twice with administrators to discuss Title IX equity. Although plenty of ideas were examined during the meetings, little was accomplished, she said.

“The problem is, our existing individual booster clubs don’t have a lot of guidelines,” Reutimann said, adding that administrators have promised to create a detailed list of regulations. “Right now, everyone’s just doing what’s best for their kids.”

This individual mentality, she pointed out, may hinder the success of a schoolwide club.

“It’s a good idea, but I just don’t know if all the little booster clubs can function under one big organization. If we have more than 100 football parents but only 10 for tennis, then should tennis get a proportionate amount when football is bringing in more money?” Reutimann mused. “How would they prioritize needs?”

Indeed, the question is shared by parents and administrators. Yet the answer is up to the latter. Title IX is not an option; it is a federal requirement.

In October 2007, MISD hired an independent consultant to conduct a Title IX compliance report. Although the district met most Title IX statutes, a few areas in the girls’ athletic program were deemed inadequate. The number of MIHS girls participating in sports was 46 percent, compared with 55 percent of MIHS boys.

“This disparity translates into 118 fewer athletic opportunities for girls,” the report states.

Problems were found with girls’ softball equipment and facilities, as well as girls’ volleyball and lacrosse. The publicity of certain girls’ sports, as well as the number of female teams compared with male teams, was highlighted. And, of course, the booster club issue came up.

The district’s Title IX Steering Committee has since met several times. On Sept. 25, the group, led by Associate Superintendent of Instructional Services Kathy Morrison, presented the School Board with a detailed Title IX compliance report that they intend to follow.

“We have been going through [the issues] step by step. We have a two-year plan in place. We’re making good progress,” Morrison said.

Citing specific examples, Morrison said the district hired a third gymnastics coach this year to accommodate more than 50 girls who tried out, and has prioritized recruiting efforts for all girls sports. The idea to add an additional freshman/sophomore soccer team has been discussed, as well as the creation of a female badminton and bowling team. Recruitment will begin as early as middle school, with coaches visiting IMS to promote girls’ sports.

“We’re going to hold a sports fair before the winter season and another in June,” Morrison said.

The district has already met a few roadblocks in its plan, the most recent being the failure of the Nov. 4 capital facilities bond that would have replaced the soggy South Mercer Playfields, which are used by girls’ softball, with artificial surfaces.

Yet this has not deterred the Title IX committee.

“We’re re-examining our capital facilities levy to prioritize these fields,” Morrison said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to improve those fields this summer.”

The full Title IX Compliance Report can be downloaded from the School Board’s Web site at www.misd.k12.wa.us.

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