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Workin' on the Chain Gang

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Clark Fork High School in need of workers for next year's athletic events

Phil Kemink, the principal at Clark Fork Jr/Sr High School, estimates it costs around a thousand dollars to put on a home football game. Those costs are for the personnel needed to man it - from the referees on the fi eld to the ticket takers at the gate to the guy up in the booth calling the play-by-play.

Not that the school has actually paid that much for a game. With gate sales of around $300, they simply can't afford to. But come next year, it's a cost they're going to have to bear, and Kemink is reaching out to the community for help.

"We just haven't had the budget to cover those kinds of costs," he said. Football is the most pricey sport to man, but volleyball gamees will cost around $100 per game (not including officials) and a home basketball game will also come in around $100 per game plus the cost of referees. In previous years, Kemink has managed by using teachers and other staff to man concessions, gate sales, announcing, score keeping and more. Instead of paying them, the teachers have gotten credit for their hours of extra work in comp time, which they could use later in the year for extra sick days or personal time. That, unfortunately, is not in line with the contract negotiated between the district and the staff.

"It's a violation of the fair labor standards act for salaried employees," explained Lake Pend Oreille School District Superintendent Dick Cvitanich. "There's a set up way to pay those employees within the negotiated agreement."

That 'set up way to pay' includes set amounts that must be paid for both classified nad certified personnel - costs Kemink believes his budget is ill-equipped to cover. "We're now looking for adults in the community who will cover these positions at $10 per hour," he said. "Of course, we'd be thrilled to find people who want to volunteer their time, because that would help us out a lot."

Currently, score keeping for volleyball and girls' basketball is done by volunteer workers, as is concessions for both sports, and the local EMTs volunteer their time and presence at football games.

Typically, the school district has handled funding issues for athletic events by including those expenses on the supplemental levy they run every two years. That's how Sandpoint High School funds the staff it pays for games. But Clark Fork, with a functioning, non-cash method in play, has not included those expenses in their supplemental levy requests.

"To be truthful, I never considered it," Kemink explained. "We had a system that worked and that staff was happy with. If we have to include those expenses in with our other needs for equipment, uniforms, travel and the like, it would make our budget request disproportionate to other schools." That's because, no matter what the size of the school, and no matter how much they get in gate ticket sales to offset the costs, the same amount of officials are needed - some of which are required by the Idaho High School Athletic Association - for every game.

In football, for example, two people man the gate for ticket sales, with two more selling concessions. There's one person to call the play-by-play, while another acts as the official scorekeeper. There are three IHSAA-certified referees on the field, and four guys for moving and holding the chain. The EMTs are also on the field, and Clark Fork has been lucky in that local EMTs volunteer their time to be there - other volunteers include sheriff's deputies who have given of their time whenever Kemink feels he needs the presence of law enforcement at the games.

Football games can run four hours long - which puts the price tag, at $10 per hour, at close to a thousand dollars per game. (Referees are paid as per their contract with the school district, which includes pay and mileage.)

Basketball games require five officials, plus the IHSAA-certified refs, while volleyball uses seven plus referees. There are around five home football games, eight volleyball games and, by the time basketball season rolls around, there are junior high, junior varsity and varsity games most nights of the week.

"I'm just not sure where we're going to get the money for this next year," said Kemink, who says he'll raid his supplemental levy dollars - used to buy equipment, uniforms and travel - as much as he can. "We'll add those expenses to our next budget request, but we've got to get through this coming year first," he said. "Luckily this community has always come through for us, and I'm hoping they'll do so again while we work this out."

And if they can't work it out? "That's a good question," said Kemink. "We really don't want to have to go to a pay-to-play program, but one way or another, the costs will have to be covered."

Staff at the school (there are only 13 teachers total) are not sure if they will be available to work games if compt time is not offered. "It's difficult for staff who live out of the area," explained secretary Sherry Witcraft. "The pay just isn't worth a trip back out here to Clark Fork to work a game. Especially with the price of gas now. It's really going to be a loss for us," she added, "because most staff who worked games stayed after school and continued to work until game time. The district ended up getting a lot of free work that way that they won't be getting now."

But trading work at athletic events for comp time is not something the district is willing to consider, especially as it puts the financial burden on the district itself, and not the school. "It just isn't fair," explained Cvitanich. "When (those staff members) use that comp time, we have to pay for a substitute in their class, or in their job. And that time then gets counted as worked as far as computing retirement benefits and the like. We're going to work with Phil (Kemink) as much as we possibly can, but we need to ensure that the same standards are being followed throughout the district." If staff choose to work the games, they'll be paid according to the negotiated agreement - for certified staff, that's $15 per hour.

In comparison, Sandpoint High School has volunteers who cover announcing, chains, concessions and color guard. They pay for ticket takers, security from the Sandpoint Police Department, and EMTs. At large games, they pay teahers as supervisors.

For basketball and volleyball they have volunteer announcers and pay ticket takers, line judges, clock operators, and scorekeepers. They pay for EMTs at all games, including soccer. They also pay scorekeepers for track and cross-country. And, in the last school year, they paid $17,500 for certified officials as required by IHSAA.

"Obviously there's a lot of related expenses when it comes to hosting a game at your school," said Kemink, "and a lot of what's provided in actually required in order for it to count as an IHSAA-sanctioned game. We're hoping that the volunteers who have been doing some of this work will continue to volunteer, and that our community will come up with a way to help us raise the extra funds we'll need for the coming year. And then, of course, we'll put those expenses into our budget request for the next supplemental levy, and hope that it passes."

If you'd like to work at any of next year's games, please call the school at 208-266-1131.


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Landon Otis

Tagged as:

Lake Pend Oreille School District, Clark Fork High School, sports, Dick Cvitanich, Phil Kemink, staffing

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