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Phoenix-Talent drops pay-to-play fees

PHOENIX — So-called “pay to play” fees for sports and other extracurricular and co-curricular programs have been eliminated by the Phoenix-Talent School District. The school board unanimously approved the move at its Aug. 8 meeting.

“We collected $35,000 (in fees) last year. We feel that’s an amount as a district we can afford,” said Dave Ehrhardt, athletic director and a vice principal at Phoenix High School. “We hope it takes down any potential barrier to participating. It’s difficult with all the other things that families face.”

All sports at the high school and Talent Middle School are covered by the change. It also eliminates participation fees for activities such as band, choir, drama and Future Farmers of America.

“We just know that it’s a burden at the beginning of the year paying the fees and some of the other supply fees that are mandatory. That is a pretty big anxiety for some families,” said Brent Barry, district superintendent. “I hope to get more students participating in extracurricular or co-curricular activities. We know that leads to higher achievement.”

Fees had been capped previously at $200 per year per family, and reduced fees were available for those who couldn’t afford the entire expense.

“We were all over the place in how our fees had worked,” said Ehrhardt.

Students on free or reduced-cost lunch programs paid lesser fees, while band students worked to pay for some their extras by selling fireworks, said Ehrhardt.

When classes resume in early September, administrators will sit down with teachers and coaches to determine what might be a participation fee and what might be a materials fee in the various program.

Like Phoenix-Talent, a couple of other districts at the Oregon School Athletic Association 4-A level have no fees, but that’s pretty rare at this time, said Ehrhardt. A district press release said Phoenix-Talent is the only district in Southern Oregon to eliminate the fees.

“We do have fees, but we also have money in scholarship funds to offset the cost for students who cannot afford them,” said Natalie Hurd, communications specialist for Medford School District.

This year’s budget has $150,000 set aside to cover request for scholarships. That’s the same amount as last year when $127,000 in requests were approved, said Hurd.

Fees vary by schools, said Hurd. Sports participation fees at Hedrick Middle School, for example, run $50 per sport, with a $100 maximum for the school year. There are 19 schools in the district.

“If someone wants to play, we will help them any way possible,” said Ehrhardt. OSAA has some assistance programs, and Providence Medford Medical Center supplies free sports physicals, he noted.

At the district’s three elementary schools, a Junior Pirates Athletic League program will be free, but if families want a student to have a ball and shirt from the program, there would be a change.

Participation fees were instituted in many school districts across the nation over the last 20 years as they slashed sports and other activity budgets. By 2011, 61 percent of U.S. high schools were charging fees for varsity sports.

A national poll taken in 2012 by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan found that substantial differences in school sports participation are based on household income. Among lower-income families, only one-third had a teen playing in school sports compared to more than half with a teen playing in families earning more than $60,000 per year. The survey found 60 percent of kids nationally had to pay to play, and only six percent received waivers.

A University of Michigan poll released in May found that students with household incomes of $100,000 or less were twice as likely to be nonparticipants compared to their peers with higher incomes. Combining participation fees with other expenses resulted in costs averaging $408 for sports, $251 for arts and $126 for other activities, the survey found.

“Extracurricular school activities have been shown to boost educational achievement, personal development and social opportunities,” said poll co-director Sarah Clark.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

Phoenix-Talent School District