Falmouth sports boosters see threat in pay-to-play proposal

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FALMOUTH — No one at a Feb. 1 School Board workshop argued against the importance of providing more equitable funding for high school and middle school sports.

Some sports are fully funded by the School Department, while others are only partially funded or not funded at all.

But nearly a dozen of the 50 or so people in attendance complained about a subcommittee’s failure to include representation from sports booster organizations in its discussions, especially since a proposed tiered participation fee would be based, in part, on taking away or redistributing money from the booster organizations.

In an e-mail last week, Soccer Boosters President Lisa Murry asked board members to extend the three-minute time allotment for individual public comments at the workshop so a representative from each booster program could present how the plan would affect them.

But boosters were not asked to present Monday, and their members spoke only during the routine, three-minute allotments during public comments.

School Board member and subcommittee Chairman Andrew Kinley introduced the Athletics Participation Fee Model Proposal, calling the plan “the gold standard.” He said it attempts to correct financial inequities by instituting four levels of participant fees determined by the total cost of each sport.

Under the model, all existing sports programs would be preserved and would be funded to some level by the School Department. Budget items traditionally picked up by the booster organizations have been factored into the total cost of each sport.

Translated to dollars for families with student athletes, middle school sports participants would pay $75 for a sport costing up to $100 per team member, $100 for a sport costing between $101 and $200, $125 for one costing between $201 and $400, and $150 for sports costing $401 or more.

In high school, the figures increase: a $125 fee for a sport costing up to $275 per team member, $150 for sports costing between $276 and $550, $200 for those costing between $551 and $700, and $350 for sports that cost $701 or more.

The proposal would make all “first,” or freshman, teams and all varsity assistants entirely booster-funded.

But the greatest concern for boosters involves gate receipts. Although the plan allows boosters to keep revenue from concession sales, it recommends the Athletic Department receive all proceeds from the gate. The current system allows each sport’s gate revenues to go to the corresponding booster organization.

Basketball Boosters President Chris Rogers said revenue from the gate is one of his group’s largest funding sources  – between $4,000 and $5,000 a year.

“Add $8,000 of expenses (indicated in the plan) and take away $4,000 to $5,000 and you’re no longer dealing with a ‘gold standard,’ you’re dealing with an Enron standard,” he said.

Rogers said it was “discouraging” to discover the proposal had been prepared without the committee calling on boosters for their input and assistance. He also expressed concern that there wasn’t more conversation on how to raise revenues and said the proposal could end up disenfranchising community members who financially, or as volunteers, wish to support a specific sport.

Resident Charlie Hebson also encouraged the board to solicit the boosters’ assistance, adding that every booster group is run differently.

“One reason all these programs are so successful is the energy all the boosters put in,” he said.

Giving the example of the high school’s new track, Hebson challenged the board to look at the true cost of some of the sports facilities, which, when taken into consideration as part of the total cost, make a sport such as track far more expensive than initially thought, which could change its tier on the participation fee schedule.

“If you want to get a handle on equitable funding, you have to know the true cost,” he said.

The subcommittee’s charge also included examining co-curriculars to consider whether they, too, should require a participation fee. Kinley said the committee had “punted” on that one, and decided that it would be too difficult to charge for activities that, for the most part, cost less than athletics.

But Music Coordinator Jerry Barry said he had an interest in hearing about the committee’s plan for equity funding, since some of his music students pay nearly $500 in fees, uniform costs and transportation expenses to participate in school-sponsored events. And the cost, he noted, doesn’t include the price of their instruments.

“Keep in mind what people are asked to pay for,” he told the board.

Although the proposal reflects a savings to the Athletic Department of more than $100,000, School Board Chairwoman Beth Franklin on Tuesday said that wasn’t a goal of the subcommittee. The bigger goal, she said, was to consider how to fund sports more fairly.

“We may go forward with an athletic proposal that saves us no money, but if we get to the place where everyone feels the funds are shared more equitably, then everyone will be pleased,” she said.

Franklin said she does believe the boosters should have been included, but their numbers kept small so the group as a whole could function more productively. And, going forward, she expects they will be asked to be involved.

“(The proposal) is meant to be an introductory plan that people have something to work from,” she said.

She called it a “gold springboard,” not a “gold standard.”

Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or [email protected].