Cut some sports teams or raise the pay-to-participate fee to possibly the highest in the area.
That’s the difficult choice facing the Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208 school board on April 10.
Responding to an outcry among parents and athletes whose teams are on the chopping block, the District 208 school board is now considering an option that would preserve all sports teams next year.
The catch? To save every team, the school would have to raise its pay-to-participate fee to $200 per sport, up from the $75 fee established this year.
That was one of four options Athletic Director Art Ostrow presented to the school board at its March 27 committee of the whole meeting. Of the other options the board is considering, one is Ostrow’s original recommendation, made in February, that RBHS “suspend” boys and girls water polo, boys volleyball and girls golf and raise the pay-to-participate fee to $125.
On March 27, Ostrow also presented the board with two middle ground options. One would eliminate one level of boys volleyball, cut boys and girls water polo but preserve girls golf and raise the pay to participate fee to $165.
Another would just cut one level of boys volleyball and raise the pay to participate fee to $190.
The precise fees associated with the various options could change at the April 10 meeting.
“I’m going to run these numbers one more time,” said District 208 Superintendent Kevin Skinkis.
All the options are projected to save the district about $110,000 compared to athletic department spending and revenue this year.
At its April 10 board meeting the school board is expected to decide which option to choose.
On March 27, Skinkis told the board they have no good choices.
“There’s no win, win here,” Skinkis said. “We are cutting opportunities for kids, and if we don’t cut those opportunities from kids then we need to subsidize it through the parents and make them pay for it.”
Skinkis told the board that one parent who expects to have two children participating in a total of five sports next year was willing to pay the $1,000 it would cost if the board adopts a $200 fee per sport.
The parent told Skinkis that his family currently pays $1,800 for travel volleyball and $1,300 for travel softball annually.
Ostrow told the board that he does not recommend cutting any more coaching positions at RBHS as some have suggested. All four alternatives Ostrow presented to the board calls for restoring two assistant boys and girls cross country coach positions that were cut this year.
“I don’t want to cut any more stipends,” Ostrow said. “I think it will have a negative impact on our program. We’re understaffed in everything.”
Using more unpaid volunteer coaches is not an option.
“There’s a memorandum of understanding that was signed with the [teachers union] that you cannot have volunteers replace cut stipends,” Skinkis said. “There is a cap on the number of volunteers in each program.”
Skinkis said that it would be an unfair labor practice to hire someone from outside the school at below the rate specified in the contract with the Riverside Brookfield Education Association.
So-called pay-to-play fees have become common in area high schools in the last decade or so as more and more schools deal with budget issues. But if RBHS raises its pay-to-participate fee to $200 that could be the highest such fee in the area.
In a limited search the Landmark could find no area high schools that currently charge more than $150 to participate in a sport. Lakes, Antioch and McHenry high schools all charge a fee of $150 per sport, although at McHenry the fee is limited to no-cut sports. Geneva High School charges $140 a sport. Downers Grove North and South high schools charge $115 a sport with the third sport free.
In RB’s Metro Suburban Athletic Conference Glenbard South currently has the highest pay-to-play fee at $130 per sport. Ridgewood charges $65, Elmwood Park $55 and Fenton $50 per sport with a two-sport cap.
Oak Park High School charges $55 a sport. Lyons Township High School has no pay-to-play fees, nor does Morton, Hinsdale Central or Hinsdale South.
At the March 27 meeting school board member Laura Hruska said she would be willing to vote to eliminate some sports teams at RB.
“I don’t feel we have to have all these sports,” Hruska said. “It would be my personal bias to put that back in the classroom.”
Principal Pamela Bylsma told the board that RBHS has more sports teams than most schools its size.
“Very few schools have as many or more sports as RB does,” Bylsma said. “It’s very difficult to sustain in hard economic times.”