Several SD308 student athletes and coaches urged the Board of Education members Monday evening to change their Feb. 12 vote to increase athletic fees for the district’s junior high and high school students.
The board approved a package of fee hikes along with program and personnel cuts totaling just over $7 million Feb. 12. The board acted to offset a budget deficit.
Included in the approved fee hikes was an increase in student athletic fees. As approved by the board, effective with the 2018-19 school year, the fee charged to high school students will increase from the current fee of $75 to $300 per student per sport, with no maximum (cap), meaning that a three-sport athlete would pay $900.
The high school fee hikes are projected to raise an additional $532,875 a year for the district.
The fees will also increase at the junior high level starting this fall, from $40 per student per sport to $80, with no maximum. That vote was expected to net $61,040 in additional revenue for the district.
While those addressing the board Monday evening acknowledged the difficult decision board members faced in attempting to limit the deficit, they emphasized the damage that they believe the $300 fee to be charged to high school students – an increase of 400 percent – will have on the Oswego East and Oswego High School athletic programs.
Karl Hoinkes, longtime Oswego High School football coach, told the board, “High school sports should not be a game just for people who are financially well-off.”
Hoinkes added, “What we’re doing, is we’re going to exclude quite a few people. I know the bottom line is the bottom line, but the bottom line is really our kids.”
Hoinkes also cited his coaching experience, referencing several student athletes who he assisted by purchasing socks and other equipment for, who would not have been able to be on the team if they had to pay a $300 fee.
“It’s sad to think that we’re going to take that chance to play away from them,” he said.
Tyson LeBlanc, varsity football coach at Oswego East High School, echoed many of Hoinkes’ sentiments.
“What I cannot wrap my head around is a 400 percent increase in athletic fees,” he said.
The increase, LeBlanc said, would have a “negative impact” on the low-income students at OEHS – about 25 percent of the student body. Applying the situation to last year’s football program, about 45 students in the roughly 180-member program would be affected.
LeBlanc also pointed out that the number of multi-sport athletes would decrease, potentially affecting college recruitment.
“One of the three questions they [recruiters] always ask is, ‘What other sports do they play?’” LeBlanc said.
According to LeBlanc, 85 percent of the school’s track team are also members of the cross country or football teams.
“By us raising this fee to $300 per sport, we’re taking that opportunity away from the kids. ... It’s not including, it’s excluding families, and in most cases, the kids that need it the most,” he said.
Parents and students also voiced their thoughts. Maureen Ford, a parent of two OEHS students, said that while she expected a fee increase, a $300 fee is “absolutely insane.”
“We are a community of middle-class families, with both parents working full-time jobs. Imposing a fee of that much, that quickly, is going to be impossible for our families and my family to do,” Ford said.
For her two student-athletes to participate in their athletics, Ford said that her family would need to pay $1,500. She also reminded the board that during the budget discussions, it was stated that athletics would not be cut. However, as Ford said, “What you actually have done with this fee, is you are cutting athletics. You are doing it, and I ask all of you to take a moment to step back, and realize what you’ve done, and see the ramifications of what this increase could do, not only to the families and the students, but the people we employ in this district.”
Oswego East senior athlete Kendra Standish presented the board with the results of an unofficial survey she conducted among her fellow OEHS students. Out of 102 responses, about 55 percent were one-sport athletes, about 40 percent were two-sport athletes, and about 5 percent were three-sport athletes.
Respondents cited past athletic experience, potential for college play, social interaction and keeping busy as reasons for participating in sports. Fifty-seven percent of respondents believed that their social lives would suffer if they were not athletes at OEHS. When asked how many sports they would play if the fee remained at $300, the percentage of two- and three-sport athletes dropped considerably, Standish said. The most surprising result, Standish said, was that when asked how many sports they would play if the fee remained at $300, the number of students who answered, “Zero sports,” rose from one respondent to 32 – a 31.6 percent increase.
“This is a problem,” Standish said. “I want to leave Oswego East knowing that my younger athlete friends will have every opportunity to succeed ... With this unreasonably high athletic fee, I cannot tell them that I am excited for what Oswego East has in store for them.”
Several other votes were held at the Feb. 12 meeting to charge activity fees for students at all grade levels: a $25 club fee for all students, a $35 activity fee for students in kindergarten through fifth grade, a $35 activity fee for students in sixth through eighth grade, and a $65 activity fee for high school students. The board also voted to reduce the high school intramural stipends by 50 percent, creating $25,000 in revenue, and to reduce the overall high school stipend allocation by 10 percent, creating $115,000 in revenue. However, the stipend votes are subject to contract negotiations with the Oswego Education Association.
No board members commented on the matter during the meeting.