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Chelsea School Board eliminates pay-to-participate fees

File photo from the first day of freshman and JV football.

(Clarification: The Middle School parents are charged $50 but because of a scholarship, they pay $25.)

The Chelsea Board of Education voted 4-1 to eliminate its pay-to-participate fees for school sports Monday night, Aug. 27 with two board members absent.

For the last two years, the school district charged Middle School parents $25 for their children to play an unlimited number of sports, while high school parents were charged $100 to play an unlimited number of sports.

Students who qualified for free and reduced lunch were charged just $10 to play.

Laurel McDevitt

Prior to the vote on Aug. 27, the district sent a survey to parents asking five questions about the pay to play fees and 396 people responded.

Here are the questions and results:

1. My child participated in at least one Chelsea School District sponsored sport or club last year, or plans to participate in one this year: 373 parents responded yes and 22 responded no.

2. The pay-to-participate policy has prevented my son/daughter, or other students I know, from participating in sports or clubs: 67 responded yes, 76 were neutral and 250 responded no. Three respondents skipped the question.

3. The pay-to-participate policy has had a negative impact on participation in athletics in the Chelsea School District: 94 parents responded yes; 137 were neutral and 164 responded no. One person did not answer the question.

4.  I support the pay-to-participate policy and believe it should remain in place: 187 said yes, 112 were neutral and 95 said no. Two people skipped the question.

5.  You may not be aware that scholarships are available to waive or reduce the participation fee for students in need. Knowing this information, does this change your response to the question above: 26 people responded yes, 63 were neutral, 300 responded  no. Seven people skipped the question.

This fall, coaches were told to hold off collecting the fees until the board made a final decision and the revenues generated by these fees account for about $50,000.

“I hope we are going to support this,” said Board Member Jon Bentley, who made the motion to eliminate the fees.

He said parents of student-athletes “do more fundraising than any others.” Plus, they have to pay for other equipment so their children can participate.

School Board President Steve Olsen said, “I’m in favor of getting rid of it … we instituted this (two years ago) because we were in hard times.”

Steve Olsen

And although the district is still facing a deficit budget, a majority of board members said that although it was a tough decision, they thought it was the right one to ensure that all students who wanted to play a sport could do so without worrying about how to pay for it.

Chelsea High School Principal Michael Kapolka put together statistics that showed a decrease in overall participation, but he wasn’t sure if the overall decline was because of the fees or a decrease in enrollment.

“A point of pride of Chelsea athletics has always been our exceptionally high participation rate for our students as we believe that their involvement and participation in activities outside the normal school day provides life-long lessons that will serve our students well as they transition to post-high school endeavors,” he wrote in the memo.

In the 2008-09 school year, there was a 97-percent participation rate. Of the 952 high school students, 923 participated.

In 2009-1010, that percentage dropped to 87 percent. Of the 933 students enrolled in the high school, 812 participated.

In 2010-11, the percentage of participation dropped again, this time to 83 percent. Of the 893 students in the high school, 744 played sports.

In 2011-12, the participation rate increased to 85 percent and of the 843 students enrolled, 714 participated in sports.

“We struggled when we initiated it (the policy) two years ago,” said Board Member Sally DeVol, adding that “The survey results were somewhat mixed. Some people didn’t even know we had scholarships; we need to do a better job of getting that information out there. I’m on the fence about this.”

She said she’d like to see the district do a little more fact-finding with another survey and that the board hold off voting on it until there was more information available.

Jon Bentley

“If you’re not sure, why err on the side of charging people?” Bentley asked during the discussion before the vote.

“Kids have to pay for shoes and equipment and sometimes their transportation, it’s not like they aren’t already paying; it’s a tough decision,” said Board Member Laurel McDevitt.

She said that even though the fees were a source of income for the district, the decision to impose them wasn’t popular two years ago when the policy was instituted. Plus, she said, she didn’t want the district to “yo-yo” and not charge this year, but reinstate the fees again next year.

Board Member Anne Mann agreed that it was a tough decision. “I’ve struggled for weeks on this one, but I’d like to see us do away with it, also.”

The motion was made by Bentley and seconded by McDevitt to eliminate the fees. DeVol was the lone no vote.

Board members Jeff Crowder and Tammy Lehman were absent.

Prior to the vote Sam Vogel urged the board to abolish the fees. He said that the kids from lower incomes in the district were the ones who should be afforded the opportunity to participate in sports.

“This a public school, not a private or a charter school; this should be about the kids and a lot of parents won’t ask for help, their kids just won’t show up.”

He urged the school board to “put the students first” and “provide them with a total experience. The kids who get hurt the most (by not being able to afford the fees) are the ones who need it the most.”

Following the vote, he praised the board for doing the right thing and added that he would make changes to the Chelsea School District Pay to Play Scholarship Fund, which  was begun last year in memory of his son, which would allow all coaches to receive “extras” for their programs if the items were needed.

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