Parents of student athletes who attend high and middle school at Dearborn Public Schools facilities will get a weight off their shoulders this year with the end of the district’s pay-to-play program.
The district made a low-key announcement on its school websites that the per-student fee–which averaged about $75 per student at the schools–has been cancelled.
Spokesman Dave Mustonen said the district ended the 5-year-old fee program to make the schools' comprehensive sports programs open to students regardless of economic issues they may be facing at home.
“Our goal is to provide opportunities for all students,” he said. “Athletics and extracurricular programs provide students with a balanced learning experience and play a big role in their performance in the classroom not just on the playing field.”
Parents Making Ends Meet
Mark Shooshanian, the athletic director of Fordson High School, said the fees have always been a sore point for some parents.
“Many of them were affected by the economy,” he said. “Even when the amount of the fee was reduced, many parents still couldn’t afford it.”
For the 2008 to 2011 school years, athletic fees cost parents $75 for middle school students, or $100 as an athletic/activities fee. High school students paid $150 to play sports, or $200 if they participated in non-athletic activities. There was a $350 family maximum, and students who received a free or reduced lunch received a 50 percent discount on the fees.
Last year, the fee was again reduced to $50 per middle school student, and $75 for high school students.
Waivers have been available in extreme situations, such as homelessness or the death of a parent.
But although the fees were reduced, some Dearborn parents still couldn't afford the extra costs–a common issue in Dearborn Public Schools. For example, 70 percent of Dearborn students meet federal eligibility requirements to receive a free or reduced lunch, according to the district’s estimates.
Schools’ Tough Fiscal Road
But parents are the only ones hurting for funds.
DPS faces continued fiscal issues, and expenditures and costs have often outpaced revenues. For the 2012-13 school year, officials pared away $2.2 million from its $170 million budget.
Eliminating pay-to-play is estimated to result in the loss of $170,000 in fees, according to the district.
Officials are hopeful the sale of game passes to parents, students, and community members who enjoy school sports, and opening up increased advertising opportunities to community groups and local businesses, will compensate for the gap in funding.
For his part, Shooshanian said a renewed focus on selling attendance passes and increasing advertising at the school’s athletic fields should help the district.
“I hope that we can sell the passes and the advertising,” he said. “It will open up sports to more students.”
Shooshanian added that there would be no program cuts or staffing cuts as a result of the fee cancellation.
For the schools, it remains unclear if passes and advertising can bridge the gap on what has become been a hated, but often necessary part of education locally and nationally.
What is cleare is that sports and activities add value to a student’s education, Mustonen said.
“At a time when schools are asked to graduate students who are critical thinkers and problem solvers, extracurricular activities provide students with the real life experiences that teach them to be leaders, overcome setbacks and celebrate success, work as a team, and manage their time wisely,” he said.