School Fees For Activities Still High

Sports, music, drama, other activities now almost entirely self supporting

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The Payson School Board this week adopted fees for a bewildering array of activities, ensuring that once again, almost every extracurricular program in the school will rely on donations and fees rather than taxpayer funding.

Superintendent Casey O’Brien confirmed on Monday that preliminary figures suggest that fees paid by students and parents, money raised by booster clubs and donations to Credit for Kids paid almost all the costs of the sports, music, drama and other extracurricular programs at the high school and the middle school — including the stipends paid to teachers and coaches.

O’Brien said only money for buses and transportation still comes out of the district’s general operations budget in support of sports and other extracurricular programs.

However, the district’s financial manager indicated that she wouldn’t have a detailed breakdown on the cost of sports and other programs until perhaps October.

O’Brien previously said that the imposition of steep fees to play on sports teams and gate fees to attend the most popular games hadn’t had a big impact on participation.

Several board members asked whether the fees have deterred students from participating and whether the budget would allow a reduction in fees anytime in the future.

“I am still waiting to see those athletics fees go down, but it’s probably not going to happen this year,” said board member Barbara Shepherd.

“Probably not,” conceded O’Brien.

“But can we have a little bit of a report on how it has affected students?” she asked.

The district has grown increasingly reliant on fees and contributions to keep its extracurricular programs afloat. Previously, the district used general funds to pay stipends for coaches and advisers and also covered many of the direct costs of the programs. Money raised by the booster clubs often provided useful extras, but didn’t cover the core costs.

But in the last few years the district has withdrawn most direct support for those after-school programs, increasingly requiring advisers, students and coaches to spend a large share of their time raising money to keep the clubs and teams afloat.

The biggest hit came in the form of a $200-per student per sport participation fee, with another $50 for the second sport and a $400 maximum for each family. That fee will remain unchanged next year.

In fact, the board approved only one fee change for the upcoming fiscal year, a decrease in parking fees of $10.

Rising fees in Payson reflect a worrisome national trend. Repeated studies have shown that participation in extracurricular activities like sports and the arts can significantly increase test scores, graduation rates, grade point averages and student engagement.

The district has money available — mostly from Credit for Kids donations — to pay the fees for families facing a financial hardship. But students must go to the school and administrators to seek help in paying the fees, a step many families are reluctant to take.

The U.S. Department of Education reports that nationally the cost of fees at public schools has increased 44 percent, adjusted for inflation.

The increase in fees comes in response to cuts in taxpayer support for K-12 schools. Some estimates suggest states have cut spending on K-12 education by $17 billion in the past year.

Arizona, already 48th in per-student spending, made deep cuts in K-12 spending in the past two years, driving state support down to 2006 levels.

Payson schools responded to the cuts not only with higher participation fees for most activities, but by laying off teachers and other staff, closing Frontier Elementary School and increasing elementary school class sizes from about 22 per class to 28-30 per class.

What it will cost you

The array of Payson School District fees in place for next year include:

Sports fee: $200 for the first sport,

$50 for the second with a $400 family maximum.

Summer School: $120/semester

Advanced Placement Classes: $86/class.

Yearbook (purchase): $50-$75

Parking: $40

Computer class: $40

Animal Science class: $17

Business: $20

Theater: $15

Many music classes: $20

Vocational classes: $20

Many science classes: $7.50

Student Council class: $10

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