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Schools chief hopes for leniency for booster clubs

Fayette County School Superintendent Stu Silberman said he hopes that the IRS will eliminate or lessen nearly $100,000 in fines against booster clubs, groups that raise money to pay for students' sports and extracurricular activities in the county.

"My concern is for the parents. Nobody had bad intentions in this," Silberman said in an interview. "We would hope that the IRS would drop fines that they've imposed on groups. We don't know why there have been new interpretations of long-standing policies."

Fund-raisers, particularly bingo, help booster clubs pay for uniforms, trips, equipment, athletic fields and other expenses the district does not fully fund. The IRS is penalizing groups for giving parents monetary credit for fund-raising. Before the IRS began to levy penalties, the credit some parents received for fund-raising was subtracted from annual fees they paid for extracurricular activities.

However, Silberman said that there is nothing the district can do to help the clubs, which are private organizations.

Calls to the IRS field office were not returned. In the past, IRS officials have declined to comment.

Some parents suggest that there would be less need for fund-raising if Fayette County Schools paid for more.

"It's not that they aren't paying for anything," said Mike Kimbrell, president of the Tates Creek baseball boosters, which has not had IRS problems. "But they don't pay the costs of running the program."

Silberman said in the interview on Friday that he supports the work of the parents in booster clubs and that the district helps out more on extracurricular activities than most people think — to the tune of $3.2 million annually.

That's on top of spending more than $19.8 million on facilities construction since 2003, he said, and a one-time expenditure of $750,000 last year to replace band instruments.

The district doesn't pay for more because it needs the money for academics, Silberman said. However, he added that he thinks extracurricular activities are important.

"Kids who participate in activities achieve at higher levels," he said.

Transportation costs

One of the largest costs that Fayette County does not fully fund that some school districts do is transportation. According to a survey of other Central Kentucky districts conducted by Fayette County Schools, several districts pay for transportation to games and competitions and cover at least some uniform costs.

But Silberman said that Fayette County pays annually for things that some other districts don't, such as $173,000 for security at events and $235,000 for trainers who keep athletes healthy.

The district also pays $309,300 for equipment and rentals and $790,518 for maintenance and facility upkeep.

As proof the district supports extracurricular activities, he counts the $1.6 million in salaries for head coaches and band directors and one assistant for each. It also compensates those who supervise activities such as chess and debate.

The district also pays all or part of construction and maintenance for stadiums and fields and buses that take students home after activities, Silberman said.

Meanwhile, Silberman says he thinks that booster groups in other school districts in Kentucky could also face problems with the IRS.

So far, the Bryan Station Baseball boosters have been fined $61,000, the Henry Clay band $30,000, and the Lafayette band $9,000. Officials from a fourth group, the Henry Clay Booster Council, have declined to say how much they've been fined.

A 'chilling' trend

Kimbrell of Tates Creek baseball boosters, said he thinks what's happened to other booster groups is sobering for any parent volunteer.

"It's chilling," said Kimbrell. "And its difficult to raise money as it is. Nobody is profiting from being in a booster club."

Silberman said the district currently provides booster-club training that includes information on IRS regulations.

Jimmy Boling, the vice president of the Bryan Station baseball boosters, a group faced with an IRS fine, said the high cost of transportation to games and events is one of the main reasons parents must raise money.

Fayette County gives each high school only $5,000 for all of their event transportation needs, and spends $17,100 on buses that take students home from activities. In all, the district spent $50,600 for extracurricular transportation.

"It would be nice if they could pay more," said Melodie Saunders, the vice president of the Tates Creek Band Booster club, which has not had problems with the IRS. "But where is the money going to come from?"