Their respective high school teams battle each other on the playing field, but the athletic booster clubs in Harford County Public Schools are joining forces this summer against a new common enemy: pay-to-play student activities fees being implemented this coming school year.
The Harford County Board of Education approved the fees of $50 per sport and $25 per extra-curricular activity in June to raise roughly $500,000 in revenue, and save teaching positions that would have otherwise been cut from the school system’s $424.7 million fiscal year 2014 operating budget. The fees for students in all grades were enacted along with other measures to balance the Board’s spending plans with funding provided by state and county government.
At the time, the Board exempted students enrolled in the Free and Reduced-Price Meals (FaRMS) program, along with children of teachers and active military personnel. Other details regarding the fees were to be developed prior to implementation in the 2013 fall season.
Whether pay-to-play fees have that effect remains to be seen. For now, the athletic booster clubs from nearly all ten public high schools in Harford County are taking their fight against the fees directly to the School Board at a board business meeting set for Monday.
Below are excerpts from the planned statements by seven booster clubs provided to The Dagger for publication:
From the Bel Air Bobcats:
“…I come to you tonight as part of a unified group of high school boosters throughout the county and as a concerned member of the Harford County community to express our strong opposition to the proposed pay-to-Play amendment. You will hear from many different high schools booster clubs this evening, all with different concerns and valid points; however, our voices are united in our purpose for attending tonight – that is, please do not change policies that require payment for participation in athletics. Say NO to Pay To Play.
Our concerns bring many questions to the board: Who will be exempt from Pay to Play? How will it be determined and monitored? Who will be monitoring these students and who will see that it is done fairly across the county?
…In addition, we are also concerned that some athletes will be discriminated [against] based on their ability to pay. There are many families in our community who are suffering economically, but do not qualify for FARMs…
…We also believe that academics must be brought into the issue of Pay to Play… Statistics show that participation in sports correlates to high academic achievement…”
From the C. Milton Wright Mustangs:
“…Families are already undertaking many hardships, middle class families are barely making it, with no raises and more bills and higher taxes…
…The pay to play policy will put Harford County Students at a disadvantage when competing for college admissions with other Maryland students who are able to continue to fully participate in sports and clubs.
…We the Mustang Boosters oppose the pay to play and believe it would be dangerous for our children. There would be too much free time at hand. What will they do with all this spare time but possibly get in trouble.”
From the Edgewood Rams:
“Charging a fee for each individual activity that a student chooses to be a member of, gives them a sense of ownership and a right to have a spot on that team. They pay the fee in order to be able to be a part of that team or group. In athletics, what happens if a player becomes ineligible or injured during the season?
…What happens if a sport cannot field a team throughout the entire sports season? For years, schools, particularly the smaller schools, have started seasons fielding varsity and junior varsity squads in sports. Sometimes these squads are low in numbers to begin with but every effort is made to keep as many athletes involved in the athletic programs when possible. As the season goes on, eligibility issues and injuries often cause teams to fold in the middle of the season. How is the fee issue going to be handled in a situation like this?”
From the Fallston Cougars:
“Harford County Board Of Education Denies Students Rights. Is this a headline you would like to see?? Of course not. And neither do we. But this is a real consequence many students of Harford County will face this fall. …Pay to Play, is in opposition to a long standing HCPS Policy titled: ‘Student Rights and Responsibilities—Student Activities”. It reads, “Students have the right to participate in school activities regardless of race, religion, ethnic origin, gender, disability, economic status or program of study.
Pay to Play will hinder the opportunity for students to partake in as many activities as they would like and will ultimately lead to a reduction of activities offered due to low participation. These programs can be some of the most rewarding, memorable, challenging and prominent influences of a young adult’s growth during their high school careers.
…Many colleges use these extra-curriculars as the tiebreakers for acceptance between otherwise equally qualified applicants.”
From the Joppatowne Mariners:
“The feeder areas for Joppatowne High school are Edgewood and Joppatowne. Because of this JHS has a diverse group of students coming from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds…There are many students who are right on the line of qualifying for reduced lunches.
…Historically, Joppatowne High school’s athletic teams are smaller in number than other HCPS teams… Imposing a fee for all athletes will reduce this number even further. Even if we lose one or two students, we may have to fold JV players into Varsity. This is not fair to anyone. There are kids who want to try a sport for the first time or have limited experience. They are truly at a JV level. They will not be able to keep up with the pace of a varsity sport. For Joppatowne High school, losing one or two athletes because they can’t afford the $50 fee may mean that another 7-10 kids cannot play a sport on their appropriate level. This will eventually impact our varsity teams. Our athletes will not be able to compete with surrounding schools which will once again lead to low school spirit and a self- worth.
Some of our best athletes are not kids that came up from rec who have been playing a particular sport for years. Some of these kids could not afford to play rec sports. They come from single parent households where getting a child to practice 2-3 nights a week is not possible. They waited until high school to try out for a sport and discovered they are really good at it. Enacting the pay to play policy could possibly keep these kids from ever discovering how gifted they are in a particular sport.
As one of the oldest high schools in the county, is it fair to charge our athletes the same fee as athletes who get to play in a new school with new equipment, on a turf field? Some of the board has been to Joppatowne High School for a visit. Can you honestly say that our school is on the same level as most of the other high school? We continuously have to fight for modernization but now our athletes are going to be asked to pay the same fee as everyone else but we don’t get treated like everyone else. If you are asking everyone to pay the same fee, they should all have the same amenities.”
From the North Harford Hawks:
“If a student fails to pay will this become an ‘obligation’ on their record that prevents further participation and / or graduation? Passing this policy with so many unanswered questions and concerns does not foretell a successful implementation.
The overriding objection to pay-to-play is that public schools should be obligated to provide extracurricular activities free of charge as part of a free education. As Maryland residents we already pay taxes to support public education.”
From the Patterson Mill Huskies:
“Unfortunately it appears that the Board has taken a very myopic approach in an effort to solve a short-term budget problem without considering the long-term consequences. If students are charged fees to play interscholastic sports, then the Athletic Boosters from each school will suffer in their membership and the ability to raise funds… So the effort to raise additional funds to fill a short term gap – will actually cause the schools to suffer a net loss in support.
Athletic Boosters clubs in Harford County provide a myriad of benefits to their local high schools. The implementation of this new policy will impact their ability to provide uniforms, trainers, equipment, field maintenance and repairs, facility improvements, scoreboards and transportation…Pay to Play will impact the $250,000-$500,000 the Harford County Athletic Boosters clubs raise each year to support all these efforts.
Since funds collected do not go back to the sport or athletic department, the Athletic Boosters will be unable to provide funds or assistance to anyone who is impacted by the charge(s). The charter and by-laws of each Boosters Club will not allow them to distribute their funds to the HCPS general fund. Therefore, if the Boosters were asked to step in to provide aid for those affected by the implementation of the $50 per interscholastic sport fee – they would be unable.”