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Shortfall hits Moorhead High School athletics: Coaching cuts, fee hikes are possible

MOORHEAD - A budget shortfall could cause Moorhead High School to cut the jobs of some assistant coaches.

As the school district aims to trim $4.9 million in spending to help balance its budget, the activities department will likely lose a third of its budget for next season.

With about 80 percent of the current roughly $750,000 budget going towards coaching salaries, some tough decisions will need to be made in the next few months.

"It's not something we want to do, but that is one of the variables," said Moorhead activities director Don Hulbert of the possibility of losing some coaches. "We're looking at a number of different scenarios, and that could be one component.

"We're going to have to look where we don't need that extra coach in an activity where the numbers are down."

Hulbert said around $250,000 could be cut from next year's activities budget.

"One thing we know has to happen is we have to raise our fees," Hulbert said. "They're going to at least double, if not triple.

"We don't know for sure, but we think we might have to raise them substantially."

Participation fees at the school are currently $50 per activity. Hulbert said he knows even a large raise in that amount might not offset the budget crunch.

"Obviously, we can't do all of that with raising fees," Hulbert said. "But we want to find other places to make it up without having to impact people's salaries.

"We don't know if it's going to happen, but we're looking hard at a lot of areas."

Travel takes up another big chunk of the Moorhead budget. Playing in Minnesota's top class while tucked on the western border of the state means almost every road trip is a long one.

Hulbert said Moorhead spends around $110,000 per year on travel alone.

"That's something we're going to have to try and limit," Hulbert said. "Maybe we take away the longest trip from each program.

"It costs a lot. And you can't slam people with fees and then ask them to pay for a bus."

Just a few miles down the road, Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton isn't in the same boat. Rebels activities director Craig Anderson said a large reason for that is because of the travel.

"You look at Moorhead, and they have a lot more travel to play schools of the same size," Anderson said. "Most of the schools we play are right around here, and that definitely helps.

"We're fortunate that we don't have to do anything like that right now."

Hulbert said that fundraising could also come into play if a sport wants to save a position, but that can be a tricky situation, too.

"It's tough to say that because some sports can fundraise a lot more than others," Hulbert said. "And you can't just say, 'Go out and fundraise.' It doesn't just work like that.

"And it's not just activities that are suffering here, it's the entire district."

Anderson said something is going to have to be done on a statewide level to help out all schools from a budgetary standpoint - whether they're struggling or not.

"When it boils down to cutting teachers or cutting a few games, I think that's a pretty easy thing to decide," Anderson said. "I think what's going to have to happen statewide is a cut back in the distance, the number of scrimmages and number of total games played."

The Minnesota State High School League is going to discuss cutting the maximum number of games in some sports at its March 2 meeting.

No matter what the MSHSL decides, it looks like the Spuds are going to have to cut more than just the number of games played.

"We're going to get things done this spring and this summer, and it's not going to be easy," Hulbert said. "I am a believer in what activities do for kids, and it's not easy to strike a balance.

"It's frustrating, and it's not going to be easy. I wish I had more answers. I'm worrying about this all the time."