San Luis Obispo County’s grand jury announced Thursday that allegations of financial improprieties on behalf of the Paso Robles Bearcat Athletic Foundation were not true.
Toward the end of last year, the grand jury received a complaint alleging the foundation engaged in “pay-to-play” activities (requiring students to pay a fee in order to play on a team), made illegal stipend payments to selected coaches, discriminated against coaches based on gender and misappropriated money from student funds.
An ensuing investigation found no evidence to support the charges, and the grand jury reported that “the foundation provides a valuable service to the Paso Robles High School athletic program.”
Derek Stroud, who took over the school’s athletics director position after Mark Rose recently stepped down, said Thursday that Rose and other members of the foundation have been unjustly besmirched. He said the complainants, who weren’t named in the grand jury’s report, owe an apology.
Phone messages left Thursday for Rose weren’t returned as of press time.
“They’ve had to endure quite a beating,” Stroud said. “I believe they deserve an apology from the people who made these allegations.”
The grand jury did, however, conclude that the foundation had harmed its own reputation and image by not being accessible enough for the public, and needs to be more detailed and complete in its administrative procedures.
To that end, the grand jury issued eight official recommendations to the foundation. Among those, the grand jury has called for the foundation to more regularly hold meetings and publicly maintain minutes there, to implement a more thorough recordkeeping system, and to establish a public-information program to fully clarify to the community the foundation’s purposes, activities, sources of revenue and expenditures.
A complete copy of the grand jury’s report can be found online at SLOcourts.net/grand_jury/reports.
The Bearcat Athletic Foundation was formed in 2004 in order to address two primary objectives: administration of the school’s coach-run summer sports programs, which are voluntary for students, and fundraising for capital-improvement projects to benefit the school’s athletic program.
The foundation is required to formally respond to the recommendations by July 22.
A phone message left for district superintendent Kathleen McNamara wasn’t returned.
Over the past two fiscal years, the state cut its education budget by nearly $20 billion.
Paso Robles wasn’t immune, and over the past two years, the school was relegated to slashing its teams’ transportation funding by 62 percent. Coaching stipends throughout the district were also put on the chopping block.
In an effort to bridge the funding gap, coaches and administrators statewide are increasingly relying on booster clubs and students’ families.
Explicitly charging students mandatory fees as an outright individual requirement to be on a team violates a 1984 California Supreme Court case, Hartzell v. Connell, that still serves as a precedent. That ruling was meant to ensure that public schools remained an equalizing haven, not a divider between rich and poor.
The situations have put public-school administrators throughout the state between a rock and a hard place when it comes to trying to meet typical families’ expectations that their children are afforded the same opportunities as students in better economic times in the past.
Mass fundraising and donation-collecting for programs in a general, non-threatening, non-exclusionary manner is legal.