Board unable to reach decision on pay-to-play

General Editor
   April 30, 2003 — Pay-to-play was brought up as a possibility again for 509-J sports at Monday night's board of directors meeting, but a decision was delayed for two weeks so board chair Bob Ringering, who was absent Monday, could be included in the vote.
   The proposed athletic participation fees would be $50 for high school and $25 for middle school students per sport, beginning next fall. Fees would be charged for students who make a team and must be paid prior to the first sports contest. Students who drop or are cut from a sport will receive a refund of the fee.
   For students who can't afford the fees, the school district would work with outside groups like Buff Boosters to provide scholarships.
   While board members didn't vote, they did voice their opinions on the topic, as did several members of the public.
   MHS Coach Evan Brown, speaking for school coaches and Athletic Director Margaret Sturza, said they felt fees should only be accessed to kids who make a team, not ones who try out for a sport. The board indicated that change had been made to the original proposal.
   The board talked about using the list of students who qualify for free and reduced lunches as an indicator of who might need sports scholarships.
   But Brown noted, "We don't want to limit students in any way, who can't afford (fees). Not all kids who qualify for free and reduced lunch apply for it."
   Parent Tammy Ellenburg asked, "Is it really going to make that much difference ... would the money saved be worth excluding some kids?"
   Supt. Phil Riley estimated the MHS athletics program costs $400,000 per year, while the middle school program costs $100,000. With around 444 athletes at MHS and 335 at JCMS, pay-to-play fees would generate an estimated $30,575.
   Riley noted the money saved wasn't the reason for the pay-to-play fees, as much as the fact that other departments had been asked to take cuts and the athletic department has not, until now.
   Board member Tom Norton said, "I'd rather not do it, but I'd support it," while board member Jeff Sanders said, "I have strong feelings there should be no fees." Sanders said it was a move to appease the public and give the impression that "we're trying to save sports."
   Student board member Nathan St. John noted Bend and other schools are charging up to $200 in fees and $50 might not seem like much, "but its quite a financial burden around here," he said.
   Acting board chair Steve Earnest tabled the vote until the next meeting saying, "When we're cutting TAG, P.E. and health it's hard not to look at this. It doesn't make much money, but it does make some and might be enough to pay for a school counselor.