The Jessamine County school district is looking at developing a fee schedule for athletics after board members examined widely varying numbers for parent expenses across schools and sports.
Coaches are asked to provide parents with an estimated figure for out-of-pocket costs before each season. The school board looked at a compilation of these projections for nearly all athletic activities at its work session earlier in November. While those total fees ranged from $25 to $870, superintendent Lu Young said at the work session that booster activity varies with each sport and that the anticipated parent costs are the best figures the district can use for comparison.
“That’s really the only way we can look at it in terms of trying to make this an apples-to-apples comparison — what the parents had to pay out of pocket this year, fundraising notwithstanding, because some boosters are more active than others,” she said. “We have no control over that.”
The cheerleading figures popped off the page to several board members, as the total per-year cost reported for the state-sanctioned sport-activity was the highest of all activities at each of the high and middle schools. West Jessamine High School’s was the highest at $870, with East Jessamine High School just behind at $722 and both middle schools around $400.
Board member Fran Settle coached cheerleading at West Jessamine Middle School for two years and East Jessamine High School for three years, and one of her daughters currently cheers at West High. Speaking from her current experience with West High, she said competitions — including nationals — are a big expense for the team.
“When you look at the high-school level, your expenses are going to primarily revolve around (competitions) if your team is able to compete and go to nationals,” she said. “By the time that you do that, that does become what the bulk of the expense is, because other than that, there’s not really a lot of cost that we incur.”
The base figure given for East High cheerleading fees was $372 plus between $165 and $350 for camp and choreography. Coach Kristen Mulcahy, in her second year at the school, said the base number only applied to incoming freshmen who would need to make one-time purchases of clothes and materials.
“The $372 is basically, ‘I have nothing; I’m a new cheerleader, and I need everything,’” Mulcahy said. “A lot of the kids from the middle school have a few things coming up, but I guess at the high-school level we have quite a few different things, so the start-up cost is going to be about $370, but that’s going to include all their warm-ups, all their garments that they’re going to need for their uniform, and the next few years, they’re not going to need any of those things.”
Mulcahy said East’s boosters fundraise for most of the competition fees. She said she tries to keep costs of camps and choreography as low as possible while knowing they are necessary to be competitive.
“Camp is pretty necessary for cheerleading, because that’s where you’re going to learn your new stuff, what’s coming out, new stunts that are going on, cheers and things — basically so you’re not falling behind,” she said.
Cheerleaders perform at football and basketball games but typically don’t get a chance to gain money from concessions at those events — a big challenge that comes with being a “non-spectator” sport, Mulcahy said.
“We don’t have spectators coming to watch and pay to get into the games; we don’t raise any money from being a part of the school,” she said. “That’s our biggest problem — we just don’t have any kind of funding from the school that way.”
The only other figure that eclipsed $400 was West Jessamine High School baseball, which listed fees of $250 but also added a $600 expense for a spring-break trip. That annual trip has been scrutinized by the board before approval each of the past two years, with boosters defending the cost and insisting they pay for players who can’t afford the trip.
District policy requires that student-athletes eligible for free lunches will have all athletic costs paid and those eligible for reduced-price lunches will have half their costs paid. Young said Jessamine County coaches do an exceptional job of abiding by that policy and protecting the anonymity and privacy of students receiving the funds.
Board-member Hallie Bandy said at the November work session that she was in favor of a cap on athletic fees; she said she thought $200 to $250 was a sacrifice but “palatable” for parents. Settle, whose son played baseball at West High, said Monday after a board meeting that she wished all activities could be free but emphasized the importance of exposure for student-athletes wanting to compete at the next level.
“A lot of these athletes that you have — at East and West both — if they have chosen that they want to continue that sport later on down the road, they have to get out there and they have to be seen,” Settle said. “So your spring-training trips and going to nationals — that’s when these kids are seen; that’s why it’s so vital that those kids get to go and get to participate in those things.”
Athletic director Ken Cox said the Jessamine County school district provides a lot more for athletic programs than some other districts, including paying for transportation and maintenance of facilities.
“The board understands the importance of extracurricular activities, including athletics, and does all that they can to lessen the expense of the school, which is, I think, a tribute to the board,” Cox said.
Young said the district went through a process a few years ago to standardize instructional fees and now needed to do the same thing with athletic fees. A district policy states that the board will adopt “all student fees and charges,” including activity fees and membership dues; Young said this does not currently apply to athletics though the language suggests it might.
“Because they’re charges to play ball — either for equipment or travel or whatever — I really think it should be up to the board to approve them,” she said.
The athletic directors at the schools will take the gathered data about costs to their school councils, Young said, and the councils will be directed to bring back recommendations to the board for not-to-exceed amounts for each activity’s costs. The board would then have final approval.
“I really want them to wrestle with it at the school level since councils are in charge of extracurricular activities; I really think the recommendation should come from them,” Young said.
“I think we really need to hear what the community has to say about what is a reasonable out-of-pocket expectation, and the board will just have to wrestle with what they think is the best policy.”