Pay-to-participate fees for athletes eliminated at Chelsea Community Schools
Chris Asadian | AnnArbor.com
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).”
--AnnArbor.com education reporter Danielle Arndt contributed to this article.