Schools question pay-to-participate fees

Are the high school’s pay-to-participate fees a vital source of revenue or a burden on the district’s financially-strapped families? That was a question raised by Board of Education Vice Chairman Doug Silver during a discussion on the athletics budget at the board’s Sept. 11 meeting.

“Is the pay for play system creating a hardship for families?” Silver asked Dane Street, the high school’s athletic director.

Currently, the families of high school students are charged fees based on the number and type of sport a child plays.

It is a significant revenue source for the athletic department’s yearly budget. In the 2017-18 school year, participation fees for fall, winter, and spring sports combined made up a little less than a quarter of the department’s $1.4 million budget.

Street said it would be easy enough to determine the fee’s impact by dividing the total revenue from fees by the number of student athletes to see the number of families who asked to have their fees waived due to a hardship.

He estimated there are about 20 athletes with unpaid participation fees leftover from the 2017-18 school year.

Typically, he explained, his office will follow up with parents with missing fees. Those who say they have a hardship are directed to the schools’ business office to determine if the fees should be waived.

If the fees were to be scaled back, it’s unclear exactly where the money to replace the revenue would come from.

In the 2017-18 school year, the board contributed over $1 million to the program’s overall budget. Were the fees to be eliminated entirely, it’s possible the board would have to make up the funding difference if programs were to remain unchanged. The department’s other main revenue sources — gate fees and rentals — only added up to a little more than $81,000 last year, about a fourth of what participation fees brought in.

Last year the schools took in a little under $34,000 more than they expected in revenue. Added to other overages from past years, the department currently has about $70,000 in its fund balance, said district Business Manager Dawn Norton.

Booster clubs

Board member Carina Borgia-Drake also asked whether funds brought in through the athletic teams’ booster clubs could run afoul of the board’s policies on gifts.

The board’s gift policy dictates that any gift above $2,000 has to come before the board for approval, explained Interim Superintendent Dr. JeanAnn Paddyfote.

Street said the booster club funds are “not the purview of the athletic department.” However, he noted that questions had been raised around whether the use of the funds for providing transportation for players to and from games could create an issue with Title IX, the federal statute that forces schools to provide equitable opportunities for students based on gender.

Street said the department will continue to look into booster club funds.

He added that none of the funds raised were above the $2,000 limit that would trigger a review by the board.

There are a lot of booster clubs in town, “and they take on a lot of different forms,” Street said. “Again, it’s not our purview to oversee that. We don’t tell them how they can raise money, we don’t tell them how they can spend money, but we are responsible for guaranteeing that there’s some equity between our teams and between our genders.”