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Posted on Tue, Aug 28, 2012 : 5:55 a.m.

Pay-to-participate fees for athletes eliminated at Chelsea Community Schools

By Pete Cunningham


The Chelsea school board eliminated pay-to-participate fees for athletics at a meeting on Monday.

Chris Asadian |

Hard work, dedication and sacrifice are required of athletes at Chelsea Community Schools, but money is not.

That's as of Monday night, when the Chelsea school board approved the elimination of pay-to-participate fees, which charged high school students a flat rate of $100 to participate in athletics and middle school students $25. The program generated $50,000-$60,000 in annual revenue for the district.

With two members absent, the board needed a 4-1 vote to pass the action item and got exactly that.

“(Athletics) really entertains more people in our community than any other event in our school district, but yet we are asking our parents and our students who participate to pay $100?” said board member Jon Bentley. “I just really struggle with that, it doesn’t feel good to me.”

Trustee Sally Devol, who cast the lone opposition vote, wasn’t comfortable eliminating a source of revenue when the district faces a deficit for the upcoming school year.

"The $50,000 to $60,00 brought in by the fee is a significant amount of money," Devol said. "To just not have access to that, I don’t know where that will come from. Fifty thousand dollars is almost a fourth of our deficit.”

Board president Steve Olsen said the board was anticipating a $240,000-$260,000 deficit for the upcoming year prior to the elimination of pay-to-participate and plans to dip into the district’s roughly $5 million equity fund to balance the budget.

Devol said she wasn’t necessarily against eliminating pay to participate fees - which have been in place for two years - but wanted time to research the issue more thoroughly.

“It feels a little bit rushed,” Devol said.

Chelsea is bucking the trend of surrounding districts. At Manchester High School the fee is $100 to play one sport and $250 total for a three-sport athlete. Ann Arbor Public Schools charges $150 for the first sport in high school and an additional $75 for each sport after that.

Dexter recently increased its fees to $250 for the first sport, $150 for the second and $100 for the third with a $700 family cap.

“I think it’s a great decision,” said Chelsea football coach Brad Bush. “I understand the other side of the argument. In my 20 years in education this is one of the worst financial times we’ve been in…I think when you look at the amount we were bringing in versus the benefit we provide for all students (by not charging), I just think it’s a really smart choice.”

During the public comment portion of the meeting, former teacher and coach Sam Vogel said he thought the pay-to-participate fees disproportionately discouraged underprivileged students from joining teams.

Chelsea only charged students on the free or reduced-price lunch program $10 to play, and there are several scholarship funds in place for students from low-income families. Regardless, total participation rates at Chelsea dropped by “double digits” after the schools implemented the fees according to district superintendent Andrew Ingall.

“Most students will not ask for help, they just won’t show up,” Vogel said.

“The more kids are involved, the more they’ll succeed socially and academically,” Bush said. “(At risk youth) those are the kids that need athletics more than anyone, those who need to be tied to positive relationships with coaches, other students and the school…and many times those are people that don’t want to step forward (and ask for help).” education reporter Danielle Arndt contributed to this article.

Pete Cunningham covers sports for He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @petcunningham.



Wed, Sep 5, 2012 : 1:13 p.m.

Great decision on the part of the Chelsea school board. :)

Sue R

Fri, Aug 31, 2012 : 9:11 p.m.

This sounds like a good idea, one good measure of success would be to see if sports participation increases. There is a national group who have a campaign called "Keep Her in the Game", which has found that by the time a girl is 14 they are twice as likely as boys to drop out of sports. I know at $100 a sport I would not have been able to participate and would have easily given me an additional reason to not participate in a sport if I were a freshman girl. I believe my school offers discreet waivers for financial reasons.

Nice One!

Fri, Aug 31, 2012 : 5:58 a.m.

Or is it that smarter kids are more likely to play sports? Either way, it works.

Nice One!

Fri, Aug 31, 2012 : 5:57 a.m.

@Susie Q This is not putting extracurricular over academics. Kids who play sports get better grades.

Susie Q

Thu, Aug 30, 2012 : 2:30 a.m.

This does not seem to be a positive development, contrary to the many happy votes we see below. Chelsea has made many cuts over the past five years to its ACADEMIC programs, and to think that they believe sports (football) is more important than academics is disappointing. I am a Chelsea resident and taxpayer and will remember this when a millage vote occurs. Extra-curricular over academics is wrong.


Thu, Aug 30, 2012 : 2:11 a.m.

Ann Arbor is $150 first sport, $75 second sport, third sport free. Ha. There's also a $30 insurance fee that is tacked on to the $150. These fees go directly to the district, not the school, not the sports team. Additional fees per sport are for that particular team, and do not go to the district, as well as any fundraisers the team may do, such as discount coupons. The plan in Ann Arbor is to raise fees next year to $250 per student, plus the insurance fee, for any or all sports, even if your child only plays one sport. This way as much money as possible is squeezed out of those who do not get free and reduced lunch. Then you will have to pay the additional sports team fees. Pretty soon the only kids playing sports will be the wealthy who can pay for any fees, and the poor who never have to worry about paying for any fees. The middle class won't be able to afford it. I'm sure that will improve enrollment in the Ann arbor schools. Maybe we should move to Chelsea where it's all the same for everyone.


Thu, Aug 30, 2012 : 1:12 a.m.

Chelsea is applauded for leading the way to include Athletics as part of the total school experience and program! I believe Coach Bush's, Board Member Jon Bently's , and Superintendent Andrew Ingall's comments reflect a positive change in providing academic and social growth experiences for their students. As noted in other posts, let us hope other area districts will also see this need.


Wed, Aug 29, 2012 : 11:56 p.m.

@Barbara Read Who introduced IB is of no consequence because it is here. The Admin submitted a plan that was approved by the Board despite many opposed to the spending of money on a new program; instead of better utilizing existing monies on existing programs. Many spoke against the IB program and some spoke for it...including you on 8/15/11. Athletics is an existing program that is losing funding to pay for new programs from the money we pay in taxes. Children wanting to be involved will need even more of their parent's money (many families who are two-income households unlike yours). Parents who then have to pay even more for the over-the-top activities/functions/apparel (affordable to the few). And we won't even go into great detail on the money us parents have to spend on private music lessons and tutoring to make up for the inadequate class room learning. But it sounds like that is not on your radar as a parent (lucky you) nor what it is like for the parents of lower achieving kids in Mill Creek and elsewhere. I read what your point is and I see that you did not address the points in my post. Nor did you need to, but you chose to respond directly to me and deflected on the issues I raised. -parents such as yourself wanting it all and then more; without acknowledging that the district (and many families!!) only have so much money -there is a silent majority who cannot afford the over-the-top spending on non-classroom activities/functions,etc. -the district is mediocre against several metrics, yet money is being spent on new programs that are untested, not required, nor will not impact the majority of the student population -for several years the number of counselors at the high school is inadequate Heard more times than I can count about the Dexter Way and the Dexter Difference. Now I can Look forward to hear how "Creativity and hard work go a long way toward getting things done. That's the kind of place Dexter is."

Barbara Read

Wed, Aug 29, 2012 : 9:30 p.m.

The "gifted program" I have proposed is not a huge burden or expense. For two years, I have brought my own materials to Bates, and worked with students on math puzzles and challenges in the media center. Toward the end of the year, we worked together on a "paper airplane challenge" to figure out the best styles of planes and how to alter the flight path with small changes. Back in the classroom, the teacher worked with the students who were still learning the core math concepts. This worked very well, and for the school, it was free. At Wylie, the PTT purchased materials for an enrichment cart to be stored at the school. This was funded by the parent teacher organization and cost around $200. I donated the cart from home. Aside from copying worksheets for a few kids, no school resources were used. Again, this was for a small group of kids who were allowed to miss the regular math time to work on puzzlers (mostly Sunshine Math, which was developed by the Florida Dept. of Education for volunteers to use at schools--and free online!). The materials can be used year after year. I offered to organize a parent-run math challenge program based on Sunshine Math at Creekside for any students who were interested (not just gifted). Principal Park was not interested, so that was the end of that. My point is: it doesn't take a lot of money or a huge program to meet the needs of individual students. Creativity and hard work go a long way toward getting things done. That's the kind of place Dexter is.

Barbara Read

Wed, Aug 29, 2012 : 9:12 p.m.

Hi Chalkboard Joe, Just to clarify, I have not actually been a strong proponent of the IB program. I'm neither for nor against it. My older daughter loved her AP classes and got a very good education at the high school prior to the IB program. She did well enough to earn a full-tuition National Merit Scholarship, so we can't really complain. On the other hand, my husband is an IB graduate and attended a round table meeting to help explain to parents what the program offers, but I don't think that either one of us feels like the IB program is an essential service. It's a solid program and the students in it will learn a lot, but unless they receive the diploma at the end, the benefits will be very similar to stand alone AP classes. It's the diploma that sets it apart and helps kids get into college. I'll be interested to see how it goes. My daughter is planning to participate in the IB program and earn the diploma. It is a good program, and as long as the school is offering it, we'll give it a try. If she changes her mind and decides to go with AP, we're also fine with that. It's been a while, but wasn't it Rob Glass who wanted the IB program?


Wed, Aug 29, 2012 : 1:19 p.m.

oops..."...showing off what they can afford."


Wed, Aug 29, 2012 : 1:17 p.m.

Congrats to Chelsea! Once again you show how the community and the district can align its goals, vision and action in a way that support the kids!! @Barbara Read-All good points in support of the importance of athletics for kids. You made a key point in how small the athletic budget is relative to the overall budget. The conundrum for the board and administration is how can they find the funding for athletics when parents want new programs started up. You have strongly advocated for the district to start up its own IB program for a relatively small segment of the student population; instead of opting in the county wide IB program at little to no cost. You also advocate the need to start a new program for "gifted children" that make up an even smaller segment of the student population. When Dexter parents are willing to make real sacrifices and adjustments to their expectations of "wanting it all" and "even more", only then can real progress be made by the district to contain its costs and be better at just being mediocre. -Mill Creek designation as a school that is in the top 10% within Michigan for a achievement gap is a real problem. -High school graduation rates dropping significantly over a 5 year period without an explanation as to why is unacceptable. -The staffing of high school counselors below the recommended level is a crime to the students its intended to serve. -The district not ranking in the top 10% within the state with the demographics of the student population and their parents-white, employed, college educated, income above average, etc.; does not make sense. All of the "above and beyond" expenses that the parents impose on participants in sports is out of control (apparel, parties, gifts, outings, etc.). Isn't the point of sports (and the life lessons gained) what happens at practice and game day? A few parents are living vicariously through their children and "showing off" what they can affo

Barbara Read

Tue, Aug 28, 2012 : 9:53 p.m.

As a disclaimer, I first have to say that we have really enjoyed the middle school and high school sports programs in Dexter. I'm a swim and dive / track and field / cross country parent. I love the Dexter school sports programs for many reasons, including the good friends, great coaches and goal-setting practice for my children. I'm also running for a seat on the school board. Currently, the stated goal of the Dexter school board is to make athletics self-supporting. This is not a bad goal, but with sports costing around $700 per student, how practical is it for the school board to see this through? And at what cost? We must also keep in mind that athletics account for only 1.7% of the school's operating budget. ( The main goal of athletics should be to include students in the program. This may end up meaning a little penny-pinching or using more volunteers, but this should be the goal we are aiming for. I worry about the regular high school kids who would like to try volleyball or track or wresting. If you haven't played before, it's a real leap to pay $250 to join a new sport. A Harvard Educational Review article in 2002 found that participation in extracurricular activities in high school appears to be one of the few interventions that benefit low-status, disadvantaged students – those less well served by traditional educational programs – as much or more than their more advantaged peers. Dexter should be trying to make sports MORE accessible to students, not less so. We're experimenting with more than doubling the fees this year, but hopefully in the future, we can experiment with something else.


Tue, Aug 28, 2012 : 7:55 p.m.

Congratulations to the Chelsea School Board for this bold move. I suspect your community will rally around to help make up that deficit through other means.


Tue, Aug 28, 2012 : 6:31 p.m.

So proud to be a Chelsea parent today!

Joe Hood

Tue, Aug 28, 2012 : 1:56 p.m.

What is it at AA Pioneer? I've heard $250, plus another $250, then you have to sell $400 in discount coupons?


Tue, Aug 28, 2012 : 1:38 p.m.

Actually Ann Arbor's pay to play fee is $180 for high school. On top of the registration cost to play whatever sport you are playing.


Tue, Aug 28, 2012 : 12:39 p.m.

Great move and the right decision. Sure wish Dexter hadn't gone backwards. I think "pay to play" is horrible.

Nice One!

Fri, Aug 31, 2012 : 6 a.m.

I wish I lived in Chelsea. They are really outpacing Dexter in many areas. Good for them--sucks for us.