9 Investigates: How CMS is trying to level the playing field across the district

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — For area high schools, the difference between state-of-the-art sports facilities and dilapidated fields can often come down to the support they're able to rally around them.

According to Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, the district distributes athletic funding equally across its 19 high schools, with an allotment of $6,373 each year for equipment needs.

Athletic programs then look to revenue from booster clubs, ticket sales and corporate sponsorships to support needs above and beyond what the district provides.

Revenue from CMS high school booster clubs can range from hundreds of thousands of dollars, to none at all.

For years, Matt Morrow said Harding University High School in west Charlotte didn't have a booster club. The alum is now president of the re-invigorated effort, and has repeatedly voiced the program's facilities needs before the school board, which include dilapidated bleachers and the absence of a field house.

"Within the CMS vision, it says that CMS provides all students the best education anywhere, preparing every child to lead a rich and productive life," Morrow said in a December 2018 board meeting. "I don't feel like that's happening, equally across the board."

When Channel 9 pulled tax forms for athletic booster clubs within the district, schools including Ardrey Kell, Hough, and Olympic High School brought in revenue ranging from $190,000 to more than $450,000 annually.

"Honestly, I don't think that I would be able to serve my athletes the way that I do if I didn't have that support," Olympic High School Athletic Director Stephanie Wilkerson said. "I think Olympic is in a good situation because this zip code is one of the fastest growing in the country. There's a lot of people who've moved here, but there's also a lot of businesses and retail and restaurants that have moved here."

Wilkerson said athletic directors will collaborate with each other for suggestions on fundraisers and sponsorship opportunities that could yield much-needed revenue.

[ALSO READ: Panthers' Thomas Davis donates $15K for Harding HS state champ ring]

She also said Olympic is the only CMS high school in the Steele Creek community, and isn't forced to compete with other programs for area sponsorships.

"It's a little bit harder where some of these schools are located to have thriving businesses and things that can give back, to have the surplus money in their budget to donate back to community schools," Wilkerson said.

Officials at Harding said its booster club didn't yield enough income last year to file a tax form.

"It's just hard to imagine that we have a group of high school, a public high school, that's still going through this," Dee Rankin said.

Rankin is among 39 members of the CMS Equity Committee, a group recently established to review and discuss CMS data and programs in order to monitor progress toward equity. School facilities are among its action items.

"If we're talking about being an equitable district, even though there are certain schools that have the opportunity or have parents that can raise enough money, everyone should at least have an opportunity to compete when it comes to stuff like sports," Rankin said. "It may require for us to say that school A may need to get more of our budget than school B, and it's okay."

The CMS Equity committee will review other areas including economic diversity and students' access to opportunity. They'll present their observations and recommendations before the board.