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Jorge Romero helped launch a new boosters club at Santa Paula High School in June 2012, was elected president and set out with an agenda to elevate the football program.
"I did it for the kids," he said. "I grew up around Carpinteria (High) football, and I feel like I know what it takes for a high school team to be successful.
"It takes everybody being on the same page - administrators, coaches and parents - doing what it takes to support the players. Our motto became, 'One team, one town, one goal.' I wanted to build a family atmosphere around our football program."
Just over a year later - a mere two games into the 2013 high school football season - it all went south.
Romero and a junior varsity football coach got into a public spat before a road game at Santa Maria High on Sept. 6. Soon after, the Santa Paula Unified School District announced it had immediately severed ties with the football boosters club and would no longer accept its support.
Throughout Ventura County, the relationships between booster clubs and high school athletics remain a delicate hot-button topic.
"It's a tough, tough issue," concedes Ventura High boys' basketball coach Dan Larson. "We need the support of our parents, but there is the potential for problems."
Romero said he did all he could that night to avoid the confrontation with the coach and tried to walk away when the coach questioned his presence at the game. Romero, however, said the incident epitomized a festering relationship between the boosters and athletic administrators.
The boosters, Romero said, wondered aloud why the district would hire a prospective head football coach in Steve Yarnall in May 2013 and allow the same coach to walk away from the post two weeks later. Mike Montoya, who had been a Cardinals' assistant, subsequently was named head coach.
Romero said the relationship between the boosters and new football staff suffered after that. Even a plan by the boosters to provide pregame meals for players was shot down by administrators, Romero said.
He also said the boosters questioned the disposition of funds collected by parents and allocated to the athletic department.
"It was pretty clear they were unhappy with us in a lot of ways," said Romero.
Daniel Guzman, Santa Paula High's athletic director, said the partnership soured after boosters went beyond their expected roles.
"Booster clubs work best when they support the needs of an athletic program," he said. "There are going to be problems if they're overstepping boundaries."
Guzman said the school district is developing policies to better define those boundaries. "The district would like to have boosters have a clear understanding of their roles in the future," Guzman said.
Essential or unnecessary?
Santa Paula High football isn't the only program to have a run-in with boosters. Buena High football in Ventura had a similar blowup, and today few Bulldog sports' teams operate with a booster club. Camarillo High revoked the charters of its boosters club and started anew with a new club under the banner Scorpion Athletics.
Booster club basics
Ventura High generally discourages the creation of booster clubs as support for its sports teams. Moorpark High has all but ended the use of booster clubs. Instead, it has parent support groups for fundraising and volunteer manpower.
"We had some incidents that caused us to revise our thinking on booster clubs," said Rob Dearborn, Moorpark High's athletic director. "Basically, they didn't understand that it is their role to support the program, and it's the coach's role to coach.
"With parent-support groups, the roles are more clearly defined. They understand they are there to supply the coach with what he needs."
Some schools, however, place booster clubs at the top of their must-have lists.
"We don't survive without them," said Marc Groff, principal at St. Bonaventure High in Ventura. "We're asking them to do so much, both in terms of helping out with fundraising and in providing valuable volunteer hours.
"They're manning the snack bars and selling the programs. In many cases, we need them for transportation in getting our athletes from one site to another."
Thousand Oaks High athletic director Gary Walin agreed. "They're a very important part of our sports programs, and I don't know what we'd do without them," he said. "We'd tried to be very proactive in defining their roles, and in letting them know exactly what is needed from them. It's very much two sides working together."
"We don't make it without them," said Rio Mesa High athletic director Brian FitzGerald. "In these times, it can be a struggle just to get through a season and pay for all the things teams need. We're asking a lot of parents, and we certainly appreciate what they do for us."
Buying extra stuff
Booster finances cover a broad range (Scroll down for charts and fundraising totals)
The financial pictures for athletic booster clubs range from six-figure budgets to bare-bones operations, tax filings show.
The Westlake High School Football Boosters Club spent about $250,000 in the 12 months ending February 2012 and had revenues of almost $257,000, according to public records.
The figures come from financial reports that large and medium-sized nonprofit groups must file with the Internal Revenue Service and that are posted on the website, www.guidestar.org. The site is operated by GuideStar, a nonprofit organization that provides information on the nation's charities.
Football boosters at Newbury Park High School reported spending of $122,000 last school year, according to records that an umbrella group for the school provided to The Star. The figures come from Newbury Park High School Boosters, which reports revenues of about $1 million a year for a combined 20 educational, sports and arts programs at the campus.
IRS filings show lower levels of spending on the west side of the Conejo Grade and in Simi Valley. Some highlights:
Simi Valley High's football booster club reported spending $44,643 in 2012, with revenues running about $3,000 under that.
Camarillo High's Scorpion Athletic Booster Club reported revenues of almost $84,000 and spending of almost $57,000 in 2012.
At Rio Mesa High on the eastern edge of Oxnard, the athletic booster club reported spending close to $52,000 and revenues of almost $56,000 in the 2011-12 school year.
In Ventura, the Buena Football Booster Club reported spending a little more than $15,000 in 2011.
Endowments, investments and excess earnings provide a financial cushion. Those dollars, reported as year-end assets or fund balances, can run into six figures or under $30,000. They allow clubs to pay for upfront expenses for fundraisers, said Lori Salazar, treasurer of the Buena Bulldogs Football Boosters Club.
Rio Mesa's booster club, which supports a variety of sports programs, reported year-end assets of $164,260. About half of that lies in an endowment at the Ventura County Community Foundation, according to the club's tax filing for the 2011-12 year.
The endowment yields an annual check of about $3,000, Treasurer Erin Selig said. She said the club cannot touch the principal.
Year-end assets exceeded $300,000 for sports-related activities at Newbury Park High at the end of June, according to records provided by the campus booster club. For football alone, the year-end balance totaled about $39,000.
The balance totaled about $92,000 for Westlake High's football booster club for the 12 months ending in February 2012. In contrast, the football booster club for Buena High reported about a $26,000 balance in 2011.
Salazar said the club had less money because Ventura is a less affluent area than Westlake or Newbury Park, plus the school's former coach prohibited year-round fundraising. The club still exists as a nonprofit organization but is not actively raising funds, she said.
Some clubs are not represented on the guidestar.org site. Nonprofit groups with $50,000 or less in gross receipts may file a postcard tax form, which does not show financial details.
Most high schools in Ventura County need annual athletic budgets of $75,000 to $150,000, and some rely on boosters to raise as much as half of that.
Westlake High football boosters raised $257,000 for its program over a 12-month period ending in February 2012, according to records filed with the Internal Revenue Service.
Newbury Park football boosters raised about $90,000 last school year, according to club records. Athletic boosters at Fillmore High collected $79,000.
School districts generally cover such items as facilities, uniforms, a minimum number of coaching stipends and referee fees. Transportation costs to away games usually come from fees collected from student-athletes.
The extra stuff? That comes from parents or booster clubs.
"If the baseball team needs, say, a pitching machine, we go to the boosters," said FitzGerald. "If we're looking for an extra set of uniforms, we go to the boosters. It's all about the additional items that mean so much to a program."
Fees for entering pre-league tournaments come from fundraising activities. So do stipends for additional assistant coaches.
Camarillo High's booster club is trying to raise $1.7 million to transform the school stadium grass field into Tartan turf.
School districts and community bonds generally fund stadium renovations, but the amenities often come from parental fundraising. When Thousand Oaks High converted a baseball field into a softball facility, parents paid for the scoreboard and bleachers.
Schools say they do their due diligence in policing all funds raised by boosters.
In the Conejo Valley Unified School District, for example, booster clubs must give an accounting of funds to the athletic director, who sends it to the principal for approval. Once school officials sign off, the tally sheets go to the district auditor for a final review.
'Bad things can happen'
The tricky part, according to coaches and school administrators, is whether fundraising should earn a booster club a say in the school's sports program.
Boosters say yes - to a point.
"I don't think it hurts a program to listen to what the boosters have to say," said Romero. "We care a lot about the kids. We want to do what's best for them."
Paul Hinojosa, who was vice president of the Santa Paula High boosters and a former football player at the school, said boosters should have input on important administrative issues, such as the hiring of a head coach. "But when it comes to a coach's decisions and things like playing time, parents need to stay out of that. That's the point we always made to all our parents," he said.
Westlake High football coach Jim Benkert said he attends every meeting of the football boosters, but he has a steadfast rule - he won't discuss coaching decisions or playing time.
"The job of a booster is to come to the head coach and ask,'What do you need?' It might be a new blocking sled or some uniforms or whatever," said Dave Hess, athletic director and assistant football coach at Ventura High.
"Boosters do so much that is good, but unfortunately there are some who believe that what they do comes with a sense of entitlement. No good is ever going to come of that. All it does is produce conflict inside a program."
Craig Williams, the athletic director and boys basketball coach at Buena High, said discouraging booster clubs eliminates potential problems.
"For all the good they do, bad things can happen," he said. "One booster might contribute more money than another and ask,'Why is his kid getting more playing time than mine?' Those are things we always want to avoid."
Buena and Ventura are among the schools that have altered their approaches to financial help. Rather that asking booster clubs for support, the schools' individual sports teams hold their own fundraising activities.
Do's and don't's
Booster best practices
Thousand Oaks High created a handbook that is distributed to each member of every booster club throughout the school year.
"It's something we created throughout the years and tweak most every year," said Walin. "It's just our way of being proactive in the process."
The 14-page handbook includes sections on philosophy, relationships with coaches and, most importantly, handling finances. The DO's and DO NOT's section includes: DO hold banquets and booster meetings on campus. DO NOT hold functions in private homes. DO coordinator fundraising efforts through the Athletics Office. DO NOT compete with other booster clubs on fundraising.
Hinojosa said the players were the victims of the Santa Paula conflict.
"It's very discouraging," he said. "I coached most of the kids in youth football for five years, and it was our goal to be there for them. We brought them meals, we helped raised money for equipment and fees.
"We were talking to merchants and store owners, and everybody seemed happy to get involved. ... It's tough to lose that."
Hinojosa said that with boosters and schools, "everybody has to work together and stay on the same page. If you recognize that it's for the kids and strive for transparency, then everybody benefits."