Dearborn Public Schools Works to Lower, Eliminate Extracurricular Fees
With budgets contracting and fewer dollars available for extracurricular activities, the district hopes to buck a state-wide trend by reducing athlete and activities fees.
Students that would like to play sports at any of Dearborn’s three high schools pay comparatively low pay-to-play fees, but if Bob Cipriano has his way, the students would pay nothing.
Cipriano, Dearborn Public Schools’ business services director, said the district has reduced pay-to-play fees and hopes to continue to do so even as the district faces unprecedented financial shortfalls.
“We recognize that this is something that can be a hardship for parents, especially if they have more than one child in our schools,” he said. “The fees are something I would like to see go away entirely.”
But creating fee-free schools can be easier said than done. Though some parents find the fees excessive, others see sports and extracurricular activities as a nonessential activity that should be paid for by the parents of the students who participate.
Although it’s unclear when or if the fees can be reduced from where they are set currently, it is clear that fees have been reduced at a time when other districts are increasing athlete fees to offset other costs.
“We want students to take part in as many activities as they want to,” said Superintendent Brian Whiston. “Activities, whether it's sports or something else, are part of a well-rounded education.”
From the 2008-09 school year through the end of 2011, parents of middle school students paid $75 in athletic fees, $45 for academic activities, or $100 as an athletic/activities fee. High school students were charged $150 to play sports, $75 for academic activities or $200 if they participated in both. There was a $350 family maximum to help families with several children.
In 2010-11, students who received a free or reduced lunch received a 50-percent discount on the fees. Waivers were available for extreme situations, such as the death of a parent, homelessness, unemployment or a catastrophic event.
Students who play sports or take part in other activities this coming year, however, will pay significantly less. Parents of middle school students will pay $50 per student, and parents of high schoolers will pay $75. No waivers will be granted because of the reduction. There is no set family maximum, but fees will cover as many activities and sports as a student cares to participate in, Cipriano said.
Given that Dearborn faced a $10-million shortfall for 2011-12, the reduction in fees stands in contrast to what’s occurring in other districts.
In Northville, pay-to-play fees increased by $50 per athlete; parents will pay $350 per high school student and $200 per middle school student, with an $800 per-family cap. Discounted rates will be available for students on the free or reduced lunch program.
Birmingham Schools will raise per-student athletic fees by $10 to $20 per student, $110 to $120 per student for middle schoolers and $145 to $165 for high school students. Rochester Schools may charge $185 to $195 per athlete; Troy charges $175.
But the reductions may not be seen as 100-percent positive for the district if parents do not have a student that participates in after-school activities or sports. However, those parents would likely be in a minority, said Colette Richards, president of the Dearborn Parent-Teacher Association.
“Sure, there will be some parents that will wonder where the money is coming from regarding the activities,” she said. “But I think it’s a really smart thing to do; there are people that can barely afford to make these fees.”
She added that she would not be angry if one of her children does not play sports but others save on the fees.
Richards also said the demographics in terms of income in more affluent communities like Northville and Birmingham mean the parents may be able to absorb the fees. But in Dearborn, most parents would likely greet a downward trend in fees positively.
Whiston said the district must find ways to isolate students from the negative effects of continual state-imposed cost cutting.
"It's our job to find solutions for children and their families," he said.