Parents Lament Impact Of School Sports Fees

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A passel of hard-pressed parents pleaded with the Payson School Board to make sure people know they can get scholarships or spread out the hefty sports fees for their kids.

“It’s a real burden,” said Suzy Tubbs of the money she spent so her son and a foreign exchange student could play sports. She said she knew many kids who did not participate this year because of the fees. But she said the district hadn’t done a good job of letting people know they could apply for scholarships.

“Parents do care — but you have a lot of families where they’re too proud a lot of times to ask for help.”

But board members said the $110,000 raised by the $200 fee didn’t prevent many students from participating and remained essential to protecting the sports program in the face of looming layoffs, school closures and cuts in core academic programs.

“We’ll end this year to the good and next year we’ll be fine” at the current fee level, said Superintendent Casey O’Brien. “But if we were to eliminate or reduce fees, we’d have to reduce programs or subsidize sports with operations and maintenance money. I realize this is a hardship for some parents.”

The number of students participating in sports declined from 449 last year to a projected 439 this year. Total gate receipts for athletic events declined to $25,452 this year from last year’s $30,523.

Parents must pay $200 for the first sport and $50 for the second sport for each student, but the total family charge is capped at $400. That’s the amount parents can deduct from their state taxes under the “Credit for Kids” program.

Board member Barbara Shepherd said “people have to pay to get into the match and pay for uniforms. It’s not the poorest people, it’s the middle people. I would like to see us reduce them.”

But Barbara Underwood said “we’re not self sustaining. We would have to decide what else we’re going to cut out — since we already have a $900,000 deficit.”

Board member Kim Pound lamented the fees, observing that he attended college on a sports scholarship. “I never would have had that opportunity without basketball” in high school.

Parents said the fees have had a big impact on many families. Tubbs, who volunteers with community youth programs, said she knew of at least eight kids from low-income families who couldn’t afford the fees and so dropped out of sports. She was one of four parents or community members who addressed the board on the topic.

“Why don’t they make it a little more manageable,” she said. “They’ve lost a lot of people because of sports fees.”

She noted that many parents have reduced their normal state income tax check-off donation under Credit for Kids, using the money instead to pay the fees. The district’s Credit for Kids donations from the community dropped by about $35,000 this year.

The administration presented no figures on participation rates at the Monday school board study session, but O’Brien provided detailed figures on Tuesday.

Only 11 students ended up getting scholarships to offset the new fees — just under 3 percent of those participating. About 49 families have more than one child in the sports program — which means they paid the maximum $400 fee. About 100 kids participated in more than one sport — about 23 percent of participants.

Noah Sarnowski said that in addition to paying $200 per kid to participate in the first sport, he had to pay another $20 every time his family of four went to a game.

“These fees are tough for all our kids,” said Sarnowski. “Why should I have to pay to watch my own boy play football? Having to pay all these fees is tough. I’ve seen parents in the parking lot watching through the bleachers, because they couldn’t afford to pay. To me, it’s like profiteering from my boy playing ball. The $200 — I can come up with that — but not the $20 every time we go to a game.”

Joe Dean said the fees come on top of the substantial costs of providing his children with the money to eat on away-game trips. He estimated that because he had three children who participated in multiple sports, he had to shell out a total of $5,000.

“So $200 is quite a bit. And I go out of my way to help students who don’t have the money for the fees,” said Dean.

Much of the conversation focused on complaints by parents that no one had told them that they could spread out the money for the fees over the course of the school year. Moreover, they said that most parents didn’t know that they could apply for scholarships, which would reduce their fees — at the discretion of the school principal.

“Obviously, we have to do a better job of getting the information out there next year,” said Underwood.

Board member Rory Huff said the district should make sure that parents know they can spread out payments, especially because the current system hits parents with a host of charges as the school year starts. “It’s hitting them all at once,” he said.

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