Proposed pay-to-play sports fees spark ire in Middleton

 

Adam Rankin isn’t sure middle school basketball is worth $225.

And Rankin is a basketball coach.

The Middleton resident coaches basketball at North Star Charter School in Eagle, but oldest son plays basketball, football and runs track at Middleton Middle School. Those sports could prove costly for the Rankin family this year.

Middleton is considering instituting pay-to-play fees ranging between $100 to $550 for student sports, as one piece of a plan to help recover a $2.3 million shortfall caused by the continued failure of a proposed supplemental levy, and state budget cuts related to the coronavirus. The district also plans to order furloughs for administrators, cut teachers and counselors and has already moved to a 4-day school week to cut costs.

Rankin isn’t entirely opposed to fees. Students at North Star pay $175 to play on his basketball team, he said. But $250 seems too steep — particularly as families are facing economic woes of their own due to the coronavirus.

“It’s completely shameful to have proposed these types of fees,” he said.

Board members discussed the pay-to-play fees at a board meeting Tuesday night, but didn’t take any action. After an hour of hand-wringing, they voted to table the topic until July 27.

Middleton Girls Basketball, courtesy of the Middleton School District Facebook page.

Middleton athletic director Andy Ankeny said the the proposed pay-to-play fees would pay for coaches, transportation and his salary. The district will continue to pay for costs like maintaining gyms.

District officials say the fees would help the district save $400,000 on top of $1.7 million in academic cuts — which include a middle-school counselor, 16 school aides and a dean of students at the high school.

“We simply don’t have the funds necessary to support athletics without further negatively impacting academics,” superintendent Kristin Beck said on Tuesday.

The district plans to ask patrons to support its levy again in August. If that happens, Beck said the district could look at reducing the pay-to-play fees and will absorb the cost of Ankeny’s salary.

The proposed student costs are far higher than what most other public schools charge in the Treasure Valley, according to a database of costs compiled by Michael Lycklama at the Idaho Statesman in 2017. Ankeny said Tuesday that Caldwell doesn’t charge a fee, Kuna charges a flat fee of less than $100 and West Ada charges a flat fee of about $110 that goes directly to coaching stipends.

Middleton’s costs range as high as $550 for high school basketball. Those fees are going to be a hurdle for some kids, Ankeny said.

“It’s going to potentially eliminate the opportunity for some young men and women to participate,” Ankeny said.

Board member Aleisha McConkie raised the concern that students who are very active in sports could leave to a different district to avoid paying the high sports fees. If that happens, the district loses all state funding for that student, further decreasing its budget.

“At this point, I don’t know if it’s an all or nothing situation,” McConkie said.

What’s more, the proposed fees are based on the student rosters from last year. If fewer athletes decide to participate this year — perhaps because of the fees — the costs would go up.

“You think these numbers look bad, the new numbers will look worse,” Ankeny said.

If Middleton moves forward with fall sports, then has to cut the programs due to a case of COVID-19 or school closures, parents will receive a refund, Ankeny said. The district trustees also talked about ways to scholarship some students who might not be able to afford the steep fees.

The three members of the school board (two members short after trustees resigned amid district turbulence last month), said Tuesday they were torn about the fees. Board chair Kirk Adams said the district has to charge in  the short-term but should aim to get rid of pay-to-play down the road.

“Two of the three board members here are ex-college athletes,” Adams said. “All three of us understand the importance of athletics.”

Trustee Derek Moore pleaded with the public to reconsider passing the district’s $3-million supplemental levy, which received 48-percent support in the spring primary.

Rankin said the fees feel like a punishment for the failed levy. But he doesn’t think they’re going to garner more support.

Rankin supports the levy, he said, and thinks other Middleton parents do, too. He thinks it’s voters who don’t have ties to the school district that are voting “no.”

“The problem is, they’re punishing the people who are voting ‘yes,’” he said. “It doesn’t really work.”

Sami Edge

About Sami Edge

Reporter Sami Edge, a University of Oregon graduate, joined Idaho Education News in 2019. She is a 2019 Education Writers Association fellow reporting on Latino student outcomes in Idaho. She also is a 2019 American Press Institute fellow. She can be reached at [email protected].

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