If City Hall were to pick up the annual tab for the Lawrence School District's sports programs, it would be a hefty $1.4 million, according to estimates made public Tuesday.
Lawrence City Commissioner Sue Hack, a retired teacher, asked the school district to provide the estimate. She has suggested the city pay for high school and junior high athletics to help the school district solve its own $3.5 million shortfall.
"It's something we need to decide, philosophically, fairly quickly," Hack said Tuesday.
But her commission colleagues sounded skeptical.
"At this point, I wouldn't" vote to finance school sports, Commissioner Mike Rundle said Tuesday.
The city is facing rough budget times of its own. It lost $1.38 million in state funding for 2003, and City Manager Mike Wildgen warned commissioners Tuesday they must be extra-frugal during the 2004 budgeting process.
"The commission is going to have to be cognizant of the revenue side," he said of declining sales tax revenues and state funding. "Not just for this year, but for several years down the road."
But some officials point out that city and county governments have the authority to raise taxes and the school district doesn't. School officials already have taken steps to lay off teachers and close schools as a result of their budget shortfall.
School Supt. Randy Weseman couldn't say how many students are involved in athletics, but he said the number was growing.
"We're talking hundreds of kids," he said. "The percentage continues to go up, and it went up when we started the second high school."
Should the city bear the cost, the school district would continue to run the sports programs, school officials said. Otherwise the teams wouldn't be eligible for inter-school competitions sanctioned by the Kansas State High School Activities Assn.
"It would be a situation where we would still have things the way they are; we would just be using city money," said Rick Gammil, director of transportation, safety and facilities planning for the school district.
Numbers compiled by the school district show Lawrence schools spend $1.2 million annually to support sports at the city's two high schools and five junior highs. An additional $200,000 is raised annually by boosters for uniforms, equipment and other costs.
"It's amazing how much money those groups raise during the school year, so you have to consider those things," Gammil said.
City commissioners said they did not know when they would next discuss the issue.
And school officials said they weren't expecting any favors from their counterparts at City Hall anytime soon.
"I think the city has its share of budget problems," Supt. Randy Weseman said. "I haven't seen any commitment on anybody's part to pursue it. We haven't formally asked them to."