Falmouth eyes 2-tier pay-to-play fee system

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FALMOUTH — Participation in school sports is about to cost parents more than the price of cleats, helmets and gloves.

The School Department is proposing to charge high school students $175 for most teams they play on, and $100 to participate in indoor and outdoor track, in a pay-to-play program that aims to preserve the diversity of sports teams and save the district money.

“This went through several permutations,” School Board Chairwoman Beth Franklin said.

Initial fee proposals included a three-tiered approach that charged fees of more than $300 for high-cost sports such as hockey and football.

“We had booster groups push back against the three-tiered approach. The two-tiered approach was favored by the boosters,” Franklin said.

The two-tiered approach would mean fees of $175 or $100 for high-schoolers and $100 or $50 for middle-schoolers. Students who participate in the free or reduced lunch program would be exempt from the fees.

It would also mean that when new sports are being considered, the number of interested participants and the participation levels in neighboring towns would be a deciding factor for funding.

The proposed two-tiered fees have not yet been approved by the School Board. In the meantime, boosters and parents are expressing concerns about the fees.

“This will be a huge hindrance on how the different booster organizations function. They’ve already had to become more formalized,” said Chris Murry Jr., a School Board candidate and 2006 FHS graduate who has voiced concerns about the fees during several board meetings.

The new fees will be paid through, and managed by, the community programs registration system and gate fees will likely be collected by district employees instead of booster parents.

For the most part, the proposed fees cover less than half the total cost of each athletic team. The most expensive sport, boys hockey, costs nearly $30,000 to run and will bring in just over $6,100 from the fees – or 20 percent of the sport’s costs, assuming participation levels remain the same.

The least expensive sport, golf, which costs the district nearly $3,700, will come much closer to paying for itself, with $2,100 estimated in fees, or 57 percent of the sport’s overhead.

Many of the more popular sports, such as basketball and football, traditionally have charged fees to attend games. Those fees were then applied to that sport’s equipment and travel costs. Now, the gate fees are proposed to go toward general financial support for participating students, additional equipment for teams not already in the budget, and general support for first teams.

During a School Board workshop on May 3, some sports teams boosters expressed concern that their gate fees were no longer going to support the teams directly. The football team estimated a loss of $4,000 from this change.

“It’s really time for us to take a look, to try to achieve balance. This is an effort to try to move toward more equitable funding for all sports programs,” Franklin said.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net