The arrangements for financing a league are as crucial as any other.  The biggest problem facing OCCRA from day one was cash flow.  It was necessary for orders to go out soon, even before teams had financially committed to the league.  This could be the biggest single obstacle facing new league organizers: the Innovation FirstTM control systems alone run around $1,200 each and they need to be purchased way before the season starts if they are going to be organized and packaged the way they were in OCCRA.  Luckily for OCCRA, the ISD agreed to take a chance and pay for kit materials up front, knowing that schools would pay them back when they signed up. The parts would eventually get used and the ISD decided it could carry an inventory.  Other groups attempting to form a league should try to find a similar fiduciary agent; if not the local ISD, perhaps some other city, county or state governmental agency.  Without such an agent, an exact count of league participants along with their early registration and prepayment would need to be made before kit materials were ordered.

Somebody knowledgeable with the procurement process needs to be involved at all times.  There were continually bottlenecks and delays with OCCRA’s ordering and purchasing.  For example, the order of one key kit part was on indefinite hold just because of a “Catch-22” in the way purchasing processes were handled by two different organizations: the vendor was waiting to receive the Oakland Schools’ tax ID form before sending out the XXX, while Oakland Schools was waiting for the vendor to send the XXX before Oakland Schools would send them the tax ID number.  This delay in the order would have gone on indefinitely if the chairperson of the Kit subcommittee had not started making phone calls.  School districts have very definite guidelines for purchases: it is important to know what dollar amounts need to be approved by the school board, which need to be competitively bid, which need to be made with prior administrative approval…etc. If school board approval is needed on certain amounts, these purchase requests must be made well in advance as school boards typically meet only every other week or so.  Many companies carry large inventories that can handle the needs of a small robotics league, but do not count on it:  the OCCRA experience has shown that back ordering is a common occurrence and can really mess things up since fairness dictates that all teams receive their kit materials at the same time.

All donations do not need to be in materials; financial support can come from many sources.  OCCRA had all of the awards (trophies and plaques at each of the tournaments) paid for by a local nonprofit educational foundation.  The same foundation has pledged to raise enough money next year to cover the entire cost of the league!

A robotics league could be self-funded by pay-to-play fees or significant fund-raisers, but OCCRA chose to leave revenue raising to the individual schools and requested only a school’s purchase order or voucher for $2,400 to cover the cost of the kit.   The committee was concerned that schools on limited budgets would be reluctant to spend several thousand dollars in a new enterprise, especially since most budgets for the fiscal year had been set.  Superintendents and Principals typically have some discretionary funds, but there was a definite “sticker shock” that discouraged a few schools from taking part.  Donations from several corporations did help to keep the cost down, and many teams deferred payment with the ISD .  In correspondence with the participating schools’ administrations, it was pointed out that the cost of a robotics team would be no more than for typical sports teams (and typically much less).  Sports teams are generally covered by the individual school district budget and a competitive academic team should be given the same consideration.  Many schools quickly covered the cost without any great concern.  The longer the warning that schools have for such expenses, the more likely they are to get funded.  Groups forming leagues should have an approximate idea of the participation cost ready a year in advance and should be able to come up with exact costs months before the school needs to commit.

            Another issue that the Ways & Means subcommittee faced was the handling of replacement parts.  This concerned the Kit & Game subcommittee, too, but ultimately the solution had to be approved by the finance people.  During a typical robotics season, parts will inevitably be ruined.  Motors burn out, connectors break, threads get stripped…etc.  A method of handling replacement parts and financing them needs to be worked out.  Should the teams be charged?  If teams are to be charged, how is the billing done?   Who stores and manages the inventory and who dispenses the replacements?  The decision was made with OCCRA to over-order by at least 10% on all parts and to give the parts to the Events & Scheduling subcommittee to swap out, as needed, at competitions.  Between competitions, all spares were stored at one of the ISD’s four schools (Technology Centers) and dispensed by members of the Kit subcommittee.  These replacement parts were swapped without any payment needed.  None of the OCCRA teams continuously destroyed parts, so more restrictive measures were not needed.  We now allow all teams $150 in free replacement parts before we start charging them.  The responsibility to secure replacements could be left with the individual teams as FIRST does.  The OCCRA pilot season was designed to make things easy for the novice teams so no such expectation was made.  We continue to handle replacements and have not had to charge anybody yet for replacements.
            The Ways & Means subcommittee made sure that a budget (View it HERE) was developed and followed, that records were kept of all transactions, that a summary accounting of all expenses was made, and that all other business-related arrangements were monitored.  Here are some examples:

  1. Insurance coverage needed to be verified for each event;
  2. A service contract needed to be drawn up and fulfilled so that scoring software would be in place and functional for the events (see Appendix K);

A rental truck needed to be secured for each tournament so that the playing field could be transported.



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