Four years ago, the Kaneland School District was on the verge of losing all extra-curricular activities, including athletics, due to lack of funding.
Voters passed a referendum to preserve athletics and clubs, as well as a large number of academic programs not considered part of the core curriculum.
Voters again passed a referendum in February 2008, this time for construction costs for a new middle school, work on the existing middle school, and other improvements throughout the district.
Fast forward to today, and the Kaneland School District just voted to leave the Western Sun Conference following the 2009-2010 school year and join a new conference consisting of several current WSC schools, as well as schools farther to the west and south (see related story), the farthest of which is 112 miles away.
It is clear that there was not enough support from WSC schools for the conference to remain, making the districtâ€™s decision to formally announce its pending departure from the conference one of obvious necessity.
However, the choice of a new conference seems odd when budgets are so tight that staff has to be reduced, field trips have to be cut, the current middle school will not remain open as the new one opens its doors for the 2009-10 school year, and general cost-cutting must occur throughout the district.
It seems odd that there was not more consideration given to the increase in costs when Kaneland athletics teams will add six teams to the conference that are more than 50 miles away.
Based on the comments we have printed in our stories about the switch, the decision was largely based on the fact that Kaneland will face more equitable competition because the new conference will consist of schools closer to Kanelandâ€™s enrollment than the WSC. With similar enrollment numbers, Kaneland will have an easier time facing competition more at its level.
No one can deny that this is a good thing for Kaneland athletics, at least in terms of wins and losses.
However, is this good for the districtâ€™s financial picture?
School Board member Cheryl Krauspe, who voted in favor of the move to leave the WSC but was the only dissenting vote to join the new conference, said she was told the increased cost would be between $400 and $800 per sport. With 16 sports, that means the estimated annual cost increase is between $6,400 and $12,800. Certainly, when talking about total budgets in the millions of dollars, a few thousand is really a negligable amount.
Yet, was there any discussion as to how many field trips could be reinstated with around $10,000; or if the money could instead be used to prevent a reduction in materials for any number of programs negatively impacted by the districtâ€™s financial situation? Was there significant discussion on the impacts of traveling upwards of two hours to, and two hours from, a sporting event? Athletic events less than a half hour away can sometimes last late into the evening. Now imagine a two-hour return drive.
On the surface, it seems there is a small increase in the expenses, and the traveling impacts may be negligable; but at the same time it would be nice to know that officials are consistently looking for ways to reduce costs, not increase themâ€”at least until Kanelandâ€™s finances are sound enough that it can afford to use the new middle school as a second school, not merely to replace the old one. To paraphrase a famous saying, a few thousand here and a few thousand there, and pretty soon we are talking about real money.
We are glad disbanding the WSC did not leave Kaneland twisting in the wind on its own; and we are glad Kaneland will face equal competition, which will naturally lead to more victories.
Yet, there is something off-putting when academics take a financial hit while an increase in athletics is justified because it will translate into more victories.
We were glad to see Krauspe question the costs of the decision, if for nothing else than to ensure that the questions were raised, the information shared, and the district moving forward after being reminded that even a few thousand dollars can have a large impact; whether on the playing field or in the classroom.