Athletic directors deliver revised plan: Ann Arbor should increase 'pay to play'
Angela J. Cesere | AnnArbor.com
Freshman football and volleyball will be spared from cuts in Ann Arbor's high schools, according to a revised plan submitted by athletic directors, though "pay to play" will increase to maintain freshman boys basketball and lacrosse as a full varsity sport.
Those moves were outlined Wednesday afternoon as athletic directors from Huron, Pioneer and Skyline made new recommendations to help close a $475,000 budget gap for the coming year. The directors also clarified what it means to be a ‘club sport’ as opposed to a fully funded varsity sport.
The recommendations, which followed a round of suggestions previously made by the directors, included some changes to increase revenue and further details supporting the cuts.
By increasing the “pay-to-participate” cost to students and their families for varsity sports, the directors hope to raise revenue by $150,000 for freshman basketball and lacrosse.
In a presentation made by Robert Allen, deputy superintendent of operations of Ann Arbor Public Schools, he acknowledged that these increases are not easy, but he said that options are limited.
“At some point, there’s nothing left to cut and I think we’re almost there,” he said. “Every cut we make at this point is going to have a significant effect on someone.”
Boys’ and girls’ bowling, cheer, dance and fall crew were affected: Their new status as club sports will mean changes for parents, but not for the athletes.
“Nothing will change for the students,” Dottie Davis, athletics director for Huron High School, said. “You’re still going to get a varsity letter, you can still participate on the all-district and all-conference teams, you will still practice in the same place. We are all a family and we take care of each other. We share and we communicate.”
Currently, student athletes pay $150 for the first sport, $75 for the second sport, and no fee for any sport after that. The committee discussed raising that to either a $250 flat rate per athlete per year or raising each tier by $50. Both measures would raise revenue by a projected $150,000.
Last year was the first year of the current pay-to-participate plan, and student participation in athletics dropped from the previous year. Members of the school board expressed reservations that an increase could “price out” some students from participating in athletics.
"There are kids who can pay no problem, and there are kids who are going to get scholarships and waivers and I’m not worried about them,” Irene Patalan, a school board member, said. “It’s the group in the middle that’s going to swing it, and that’s the group we’re concerned about.”
The athletic directors pointed out that compared to other schools in the district, AAPS schools are still well below the average in pay-to-play cost. Novi charges students $350 per season to participate in varsity athletics, for example.
The new ‘club’ sports will not be funded by the district, and will continue through fundraising and increased fees. The freshman sports being cut, boys’ and girls’ soccer and girl’s basketball, will also be able to exist as club sports if the parents are able to raise the necessary funds for coaches and transportation.
Christine Stead, the chair of the planning committee, raised concern that the cuts were disproportional to women’s athletics and the district could be out of compliance with Title IX. David Comsa, the district’s legal adviser, explained that because proportional opportunities exist for female athletes based on interest and enrollment, the district would still be in “complete Title IX compliance.”
Rich Griffith, head crew coach at Pioneer High School, said that while he expected the cuts, the process bothered him.
“There was not a lot of transparency from the athletics directors,” he said. “We don’t even know how the money is split up, so we don’t really know exactly what to think.”
There appeared to be some disconnect between coaches and athletics directors on this point. Davis and Skyline athletics coordinator John Young both said during the meeting that coaches had been consulted at every step of the road.
One of the most contentious cuts was the freshman soccer program at all three schools. The problem rested as much on other schools as it did on Ann Arbor budget constraints. In a statement read aloud at the meeting, Lumumba Shabazz, Pioneer’s head soccer coach, said that he faced difficulty finding teams for his freshman squads to play against.
Davis said that all three soccer coaches in the district agreed that eliminating freshman soccer would increase competitiveness within their programs and allow the freshmen to compete at a higher level right away. The same held true for girls’ basketball.
“Tecumseh and Chelsea dropped their freshman girls team last year,” Young said. “My girls were having to play Huron and Pioneer three or four times a season just to get a full schedule.”
The changes will be discussed further at a study session in tonight’s full school board meeting.