By Mary Spicer
While a recent survey reports that fees for students participating in athletics continue to gain popularity in Pennsylvania, the pay-for-play concept hasn’t become reality in Crawford County — at least not yet.
“That’s something that comes up when we talk about the budget,” Superintendent Connie Youngblood of PENNCREST School District told the Tribune during a recent interview.
While the possibility has been considered from time to time by the school board’s athletic subcommittee, she added, “up to this point, it’s not anything they’ve found that they want to do — but that isn’t saying that moving forward board members on that subcommittee might not have a different take on it.”
As Youngblood sees it, the possibility of pay-for-play coming to her district “just depends on the circumstances and the budget at the time.”
The survey, conducted by Pennsylvania School Boards Association’s Education Research and Policy Center in partnership with Pennsylvania State Athletic Director’s Association, followed up on surveys conducted in 2010 and 2012 that were limited to athletic directors in attendance at PSADA’s statewide annual conference. In 2013, with the survey expanded to solicit feedback from all 500 of Pennsylvania’s public school districts, the overall response rate was 37 percent with the highest number of responses collected from the southeastern, south-central and central-western sections of the state.
“Because Pennsylvania does not regard athletics, band, student clubs, etc., as part of a guaranteed basic public education, school boards and districts are free to consider the option of charging fees to students interested in participating in these activities,” PSBA noted in its summary of the 2013 survey findings.
“Survey results show not only a growing number of school districts requiring fees, but also prices per student, per activity, are increasing,” according to the summary. “In 2010, the average activity fee was far below the national average with prices ranging between $5 and $50. In 2012 and 2013, the average pay-to-play or participation fee increased to $65 and $80, respectively.”
In response to a question asking if school districts were forced to cut sport programs based on financial limitations, 11 percent of respondents indicated that athletic programs had been cut based on funds, according to PSBA.
“Many districts are considering this option over program cuts to offset funding decreases and budgeting deficits,” according to Todd Hosterman, senior research associate with PSBA and author of the study. “However, the rising cost to athletes and their families is concerning. Looking at the maximum reported $200 per student, per activity, fee would require a three-sport athlete to pay $600 a year.”
According to PSBA, 22 percent of the 185 school districts responding said they’re also are charging student fees for other extracurricular activities such as band and chorus.
In Crawford Central School District, pay-to-play has been a topic of heated discussion during annual budget discussions. So heated, in fact, that a group of community members and educators banded together to form the Crawford Central Community Foundation to help offset the financial impact of pay-to-play on district families. These days, however, “it’s not something of interest to us at this point,” according to Superintendent Charlie Heller.
“One of our goals in the beginning was that we didn’t want to have to be in a position of cutting any programs, curricular or extra-curricular,” Heller explained. “So far, we’ve been able to accomplish that. If it came to the point where we had to consider cutting programming — before we made that decision we would have to look at all forms of supplemental funding.”
Heller noted that the foundation’s fund-raising efforts are already contributing to various activities throughout the school district, some of them extracurricular.
In Conneaut School District, pay-for-play hasn’t even come up, according to Superintendent Jarrin Sperry.
As for what has kept pay-to-play off the radar in his district so far, “The fear is are you going to exclude a student who can’t afford it,” Sperry said. “We certainly don’t want to exclude anybody who doesn’t want to participate in an activity.”
Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.