Former President Ronald Reagan captured the cynicism and skepticism of a nation while simultaneously being able to poke fun at the disdain that many hold for their government when he quipped, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’ ” No matter your political persuasion, those words from the Great Communicator still resonate today because that disdain and skepticism—a healthy component of a healthy democracy—endure more than a generation after those words were uttered.
Given that backdrop of constructive doubt on the competence and intent of government to expand the scope and depth of its influence in our lives, it is easy to understand the questions, concerns and outright opposition to the announcement recently that the Falmouth School Department intends to invade, peruse, and pervade the books of private fund raising organizations that benefit school-affiliated youth sports in town. The proclamation from athletic director Kathleen Burke that “I need to know how much” money each support or booster group holds in their own bank accounts ran a chill up the spines of the volunteers and supporters of high school sports teams. I’m sure more than one parent was channeling President Reagan and wondering why the government was so willing to help so quickly in accessing information on thousands of dollars of privately raised money.
The reason for this financial foray into the Falmouth Quarterback Club and other legendary local booster clubs is a new policy of the Falmouth School Department that requires all booster organizations to submit annual financial statements to the schools (read: the government) and, according to an account in the Enterprise, seek school approval to purchase equipment. The reason behind the reason, as cited by local attorney Laura Moynihan, is to bring Falmouth in compliance with a 2011 decision of the United States Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, which determined that the Town of Hingham was violating Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1681 et seq. The Hingham report looked at four major issues related to fairness between boys’ and girls’ sports at Hingham High School: facilities, scheduling, coaching, and booster clubs. While I agree with attorney Moynihan, who is a widely respected and accomplished attorney in town, that the Hingham report from the US Department of Education (read: the government) suggested that each district know what amounts of funds are being raised for each sport, I challenge the notion and Evel Knievel-esque leap that the DOE report also suggests that monies raised by private booster groups are “treated like district money and equipment.” Actually, to level the playing field (pun intended) for boys’ and girls’ fundraising efforts, the DOE simply suggested that Hingham, “create and implement a comprehensive policy to regulate booster club funding and other private donations flowing into the athletics program. The policy will ensure that if booster club funding is used to provide benefits and services to athletes of one sex that are greater than the benefits provided to the other sex, the District will take action to ensure that the benefits and services are equivalent for both sexes.”
Here’s my read on that statement: The federal government suggested that a local government create a policy to have some oversight into private fundraising groups to ensure equitable treatment of boys’ and girls’ sports. The government then suggested that if inequities were discovered, that the district will take action, that is, the local government was admonished to fix the problem, not seek to pawn off its responsibility on private, volunteer-run organizations.
In plain English, it simply means that if one group is raising more than another to benefit a particular sport, that the school department is responsible for making up the difference. Our football team right now is equipped by the town with a field, coaches, and footballs. The Quarterback Club provides the rest—pads, helmets, and other equipment essential to fielding a team. The decision of the federal government in no way suggests that the decades-old history of successful fundraising of this group should somehow be dismantled to provide equity to another sport. It simply means that the school department needs to re-allocate resources within its own budget to make things fair.
The Hingham decision that became the basis for this Falmouth issue required the creation of a comprehensive policy. What is most troubling to me is that the policy was announced, not developed. Were there public meetings where booster groups were invited to participate in the policy development? Was there an open, transparent, and comprehensive process leading up to this comprehensive policy?
President Reagan was right. The announcement that the government is here to help create fair funding is frightening. By trying to help in this instance, the government has made things worse. It is time to go back and work with the booster clubs and develop a comprehensive policy—comprehensively.