Update: SAD 51 board approves pay-to-play fees for Cumberland-North Yarmouth schools

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CUMBERLAND — The School Administrative District 51 board voted unanimously on Tuesday to institute athletic activity fees at Greely Middle School and Greely High School this fall.

Directors quickly approved the proposed fee of $75 per sport per player, with no cap or multi-sport discounts. No members of the general public attended the meeting at Cumberland Town Hall.

Middle school athletics that will require the fee include baseball, basketball, cross country, field hockey, golf, indoor track, lacrosse, soccer, swimming, softball, tennis, and track. High school athletics include baseball, basketball, cheerleading, cross country, field hockey, golf, indoor track, lacrosse, soccer,swimming, softball, tennis and track. 

Exemptions will be given to four sports that already pay participation fees: football, volleyball, skiing and ice hockey. Students who receive free or reduced lunches will automatically be exempt from the fee. An application will be available for those wishing to apply for a fee waiver due to financial hardship.

Payment is required before the first team practice, except in athletics that have a “cut policy.” In those sports, fees will be collected after the team has been selected, but before its first practice. The central office will be responsible for collecting and administering the fees, rather than the athletic directors or individual team coaches. 

School Board Vice Chairwoman Susan Campbell, who worked on the
proposal, emphasized that the need for an athletic activity fee was prompted by the budget voters approved on June 16, which
included a $100,000 reduction in the athletic program.

In her presentation to the board at Cumberland Town Hall on June 24, she said activity fees have been successfully implemented at Cape Elizabeth and Monmouth schools. Cape Elizabeth has a flat activity fee of $125 per student, Campbell said, and Monmouth has three levels of activity fees, ranging from $60 for varsity athletics to $20 for co-curricular activities like chorus, with a maximum of $120 per student or $300 per family. Each school has financial assistance available.

“When looking at other schools after they implemented activity fees, there has been little change, if any, on the rate of participation in athletics,” she said. 

Cumberland and North Yarmouth residents present for the first reading of the proposal last week weren’t as convinced there would be no backlash felt in the athletic programs. 

Bob King, president of Greely football boosters, brought several concerns to the board.

“I’m concerned about parents saying ‘I paid $75, why isn’t my kid out on the field?’,” King said. “And, I have issues with the waiver, because I know there are families out there that are proud and won’t want to ask for it. I’m also wondering why co-curricular activities aren’t being charged (a fee)?”

Cumberland resident Don Russell urged the board to consider instituting a student/family maximum.  He said he is concerned the fee system will favor families with greater incomes.

“I’m afraid what this is going to do to school sports, because I think some families are going to say ‘if I have to pay for my kid to play, I might as well pay for them to play on a premier team, where they can play year-round, with premier coaches,'” Russell said. 

After public comments were heard at last week’s meeting, board members echoed some of the concerns expressed by residents, and Superintendent of Schools Robert Hasson said he’s concerned about fees dissuading students from participating in sports. “I’d like to see the waiver be very easy, with a very low threshold, a painless process,” Hasson said.

While nearly every board member expressed support last week for instituting a sliding scale or family maximum, it was agreed that due to this year’s budget deficit, time constraints, among other reasons, the policy will stand “as is” for the 2009-2010 academic year, with a provision that it be reviewed and possibly modified annually.

“This is a necessary evil given our financial position,” board member Jim Bailinson concluded. 

Heather Gunther can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 115 or hgunther@theforecaster.net