Falmouth School Board, parents still vexed by pay-to-play

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FALMOUTH — If a discussion Monday was any indication, the middle and high school pay-to-participate program continues to be a source of concern for parents and school officials.

Since the program’s implementation in 2009, parents, staff, and the School Board have tried to reach a solution – or at least an understanding – where sports can continue, inequities are eradicated, and everyone is happy.

Parents of student athletes currently pay a fee per season, per child; $175 for most high school sports, $100 for track and cross country, and in middle school, $100 for most sports, and $50 for track and cross country.

For some, the fees are a source of financial stress and lack of understanding.

“I would like more transparency as to where the money is going,” one parent told School Board Chairman Andrew Kinley, referring to the broad statement that their checks go to “general funding,” in the name of closing a $150,000 annual deficit.

“We hear you,” Kinley assured the group gathered in the Falmouth Elementary School cafeteria. “We are also very concerned about the money.”

For many families, monetary demands for their kids to play sports are unmanageable, especially on top of cleats, socks, and helmets, which aren’t considered “core costs.”

What are core costs?

The determination of what qualifies as “core” and what’s deemed “unnecessary” lies in the hands of the School Board.

The lack of agreement about what constitutes “core” creates tension between the board and booster parents, who voluntarily support specific sports via fundraising within the community.

Booster parents typically pay for assistant coaches, which aren’t included in the core cost. “When you have 70 kids, you need an assistant coach,” a booster parent said.

“This is one of those tricky issues,” Kinley replied, “because if (administrators) decide there’s one coach for 100 kids, then that’s our decision. It might be the wrong one, but it’s ours to make.”

Kinley let the parents know that if boosters spent more money, they would be able to hire an assistant coach.

However, the success of the booster fundraisers has taken a hit since participation fees became mandatory.

“The thing is, we don’t have money to give (boosters) after paying these fees,” one parent said, speaking of his inability to donate. “There’s no breathing room.”

Athletic Director Cooper Higgins is all too familiar with this issue.

“I had 22 years without these arguments,” Higgins said. “I ought to be out on the field with the kids where I belong.”

Instead, Higgins said he faces some 200 emails per day, the large majority pertaining to pay-to-participate.

The director said he worries about the kids.

“It creates a tough dynamic,” especially for middle-schoolers, he said, because the coaches have to go after the kids, who have to put their hands out to their parents. “It’s uncomfortable.”

He added, smiling pensively, “It’s funny, that the most affluent towns seem to charge the most.”

Portland public schools, for example, are “fee-less,” one parent said, which leaves parents with the unanswered question: Why are Falmouth parents paying so much?

As time ran out, Kinley said, addressing the next step, “Our intent is to tell you all the good and bad.” He also emphasized the importance of meeting several times a year, for the parents to communicate with the board.

“We fail a lot,” he said. “But it’s not because we aren’t trying.”

And as for what qualifies as “core?”

“That’s a can of worms for next time,” Kinley said.

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