The Oswego School District 308 Board of Education voted in February to increase the fee charged to the district’s high school students to participate in athletics from $75 to $300 per sport effective for the current school year.
The board’s decision not to put a cap on the fees meant that families with two or more students involved in sports or with students participating in multiple sports would have to pay the full fee for all sports played by their students. As a result, a family that has a student participating in two sports this school year will pay $600 while families of three-sport athletes will pay $900.
Since February, school district parents and coaches have continued to voice concerns over the impact the increased fees will have on students and their families, and the athletic programs at Oswego High School and Oswego East High School.
The decision to increase the fee was made as part of the district’s ongoing efforts to offset a deficit.
District officials previously projected the increased fees would generate an additional $532,875 in revenue for the district annually. Fee revenues are placed into the district’s Education Fund, the same fund athletic expenses are paid from.
The high school fee increase was one of several fee increases for students, including an athletic fee increase for junior high students from $40 per student per sport to $80. That fee hike is expected to create $61,040 in additional revenue for the district.
The board also approved a 10 percent reduction in the budgets for the high school athletic programs, to save an estimated $45,000.
Coach says concerns continue
One of the district’s high school coaches said in an email to the Ledger this week that the district’s coaches remain concerned over the fee increase.
The coach wrote that “absolutely there were concerns” about the increased fees, especially for those who coach freshman teams.
“My initial reaction was shock,” the coach said. “I understand that the district needs to be financially responsible and find new avenues of revenue and unique ways to cut costs, but this seemed to be quite drastic.”
“When a young athlete wants to try a new sport or activity, or a parent encourages their son or daughter to try a new experience when entering high school, seeing a 400 percent increase in the cost to participate could easily scare a parent or student away from committing to a sport that they are interested in playing,” the coach said.
The coach added, “My concern is that those students who have participated in multiple sports ... will now have to make a choice on playing just one sport.”
Participation numbers up
At a board meeting Sept. 10, Superintendent Dr. John Sparlin reported the number of high school students participating in athletics had increased over the past year.
Theresa Komitas, director of communications and public relations for the district, later confirmed the total number of fall athletes at the high school level increased slightly from 1,039 in 2017 to 1,048 this year.
At Oswego High School, the number of participating students has decreased from 558 in the 2017-18 school year, to 529 this fall. At Oswego East, the number of students has increased from 481 in 2017-18, to 519 this school year, according to Komitas.
According to the coach, their team’s roster size is “approximately” the same as the previous two seasons. The coach also added that an argument could not be made either way as to whether or not the fee increase has affected the team’s roster size.
When asked about the community’s concerns over the fee increase, OHS Athletic Director Darren Howard said, “We knew the district was undertaking a large-scale project to balance the budget, which would include a mix of cuts to expenses and increases in revenue, which includes student fees.”
Howard continued, “It’s still very early for us to tell if the fee increase will have an impact on enrollment. ... We do hope that enrollment is not impacted, however, we are keeping a very close eye on this, and reporting this information to administrative leadership.”
The district, he said, had heard from “parents, coaches and athletes” in regards to concerns over the fee increase. Howard also voiced hope that turnout for athletes would not decrease as the school year progresses.
“We are hopeful that a decrease will not occur, and we will do our best to connect students and parents to the financial resources available,” he said.
Financial resources available
The financial burden of the fee increase has been of particular concern to parents.
The parent of an Oswego High School freshman, who asked to remain anonymous, said their student would not have the opportunity to play in any sports due to an inability to afford the fee, in addition to almost $1,000 in registration fees for two students, and a $65 activity fee for student council.
However, as Howard mentioned, there are financial resources available through the district.
According to Komitas, a fee waiver, based on income eligibility, is available through the district’s website, sd308.org, under the “Parents” tab. Parents can also set up flexible payment plans by contacting the district office. While fee waivers are dependent on income level, there is no qualification needed to start a payment plan. The district has, Komitas said, offered payment plans since July 2017 through the online payment system Pushcoin.