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By Seth Kinker, skinker@thesuntimesnews.com

The Dexter Board of Education spent just under half of its Jun. 10 meeting discussing, and hearing from the community, about pay-to-play fees.

Under the current pay-to-play structure at the high school, the first sport per student costs $250, the second, $150, and the third, $100. 63% of the athletics fund is subsidized through DCS’ general fund while the other 37% comes from gate fees and pay-to-play fees.

The option recommended by the athletics ad hoc commitee was for a single tier increase to pay-to-play for $250 for every sport at the high school and $150 for the middle school.

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Timmis reported the following numbers for high school sport participation: 425 played a single sport with 67 of those playing a self-funded sport. 238 of those 425 played a second sport, with 94 of those being self-funded sports. Finally, 26 of those 238 played three sports, with 10 of those being self-funded sports.

Board of Education President Michael Wendorf had the athletics ad-hoc committee formed in Mar. of 2018. Its goals were to 1) review and make recommendations to the Board of Education regarding DCS offerings and the structure of funded, self-funded, and club sports and 2) review and make recommendations to the education regarding a financially sustainable and Title IX compliant district-wide K-12 athletic program.

After a May 20 presentation to the board from the athletics ad-hoc committee about changes for the athletic program as a whole, the finance committee discussed the recommendation from the athletics ad-hoc subcommittee. Then, they recommended it to the board leading to the June 10 discussion.

Prior to discussing pay-to-play, seven of the eight speakers at the first opportunity for public comment talked about the pay-to play issue.

Board discussion on pay-to-play went just under an hour, all of the board was effusive in their praise for the amount of work the subcommittee had put into the recommendations made, but still had more questions.

Jason Owen Smith, who said he has two students in the district, asked where the information was on how the subcommittee came up with those numbers for pay-to-play. Wendorf clarified that all of the information was in the public domain.

Hope Vestergaard,  Director of Office Management and Communications for DCS, however, told The Sun Times differently. She told The Sun Times that the subcommittee was not bound by open meetings act requirements because it was not making decisions on behalf of the board.

As a result, no minutes were taken during subcommittee meetings.

In a pay-to-play proposal FAQ The Sun Times received as a result of Freedom of Information Act request, more specific numbers were provided.

The proposed changes would generate slightly more than current revenue, approximately $15,000 – $20,000 per year.

Later, board member Julie Schumaker, with some help from earlier queries at the community chat before the meeting, requested that they make more information about athletic departments finances available in one document that the community could access.

Deb Wilberding, another speaker during public comment, added that she had seen information about pay-to-play on Facebook and was taken by surprise by Timmis reporting athletics was over budget. An earlier item mentioned during the board meeting had to do with making an athletics budget revision that had them about $80,000 over mainly due to transportation costs and small equipment costs like uniform replacement.

“Every year the athletic budget is subsidized by $500,000,” explained Timmis. “Pay-to-play generates about $200,000 of it. The full athletic department costs $800,000 to $1,000,000 a year tops. We take about $500,000 from the dollars we get to teach kids for that budget.”

For the 2017-18 budget year, pay-to-play fees generated $204,350. Gate admissions in that same time period minus MHSAA event hosting fees generated $81,632 plus an additional $6,290 in season passes. This resulted in a subsidy of around $500,000 for athletics from the general fund. 2018-19 numbers have not yet been finalized.

Wilberding went on to say she didn’t see where the money was going, talking about specific sports and how she hoped her daughter would play basketball in high school.

“There’s a drawdown in women’s basketball right now. I don’t see the growth of this for the girls,” said Wilberding. “That gives us parents concern of what’s going to happen. I have to pay another 250 dollars for her to go? What am I going to pay for? It’s frustrating. I want my daughter to do well not just in studies but athletics too because that’s what she enjoys. For a lot of parents, it’s going to be expensive.”

Board member Daryl Kipke touched on subsidizing athletics later in the meeting, still stressing it was all about finding the equitable point. There was some brief discussion on subsidizing more of the budget to athletics that could, in turn, have an effect on pay-to-play fees.

“As a board, say we decide to subsidize athletics more,” said Kipke. “It’s a zero-sum game. Where’s it going to come from? It’s going to come from somewhere. I won’t speculate where from but you don’t just create revenue. Where is the balance point?”

Board member Barbara Read talked about the family cap during board discussion, stating her opinion on the importance of it for many of the families, including hers, who have or have had multiple student-athletes in their family.

Wendorf noted that during the community chat before the board meeting, a separate discussion or forum on the subject of athletics and pay-to-play was suggested and might be beneficial.

“If we need to have further discussion so everyone understands athletics costs and why we’re at the point where, among other things, we’re charging participation fees, I will discuss that with my colleagues,” said Wendorf. He also said that with the subcommittee meeting 24 times, they owed it to them to continue and finish the process, something that Read disagreed with. The athletics ad hoc committee, as a whole, met less than ten times comparatively.

“That to me isn’t something that resonates,” said Read. “I appreciate the hours and time and thought that was put in but I also believe they were in a bit of an impossible position. No more money but we want you to do these extra things. And they did it! Oh my goodness, they kept it as low as it could possibly be kept.”

Paula Palmer Burns spoke during public comment, saying said she had a unique perspective as a volleyball coach with four kids in the district that participated in self-funded and fully funded sports.

“I am concerned were pricing families out. I haven’t even totaled up what it would be in 2 years when I have one middle schooler and three high schoolers,” said Burns. “ I’m concerned I won’t have kids try out for my program because they can’t. As a volleyball coach, I don’t want to see attrition in other programs. There are girls programs that don’t have freshman and JV opportunities for those kids. My kids all play travel. (high school sports are) the same price by time I buy the gear required by the teams, fundraise and buy the cookie dough, by the time we do that we are at the same price as travel sports and what are we guaranteeing for it?When I go to travel sports I have a list that says how many kids on the team how often is my kid playing, how many position trainings there are, I get a list of what my money is going toward. As someone who’s going to be expected to provide that to a group of HS athletes, my concern at the coaching level is what is that expectation now that is being put on all of these coaches as well? I’m going to have to show more value, I personally feel responsible for that. I think I’m extremely good at my job. But where is the accountability for that so everyone thinks the same?”

Discussion ended without action as the board moved on to the next agenda item.

Pay to Participate Proposal FAQ

On Jun. 19, Read commented on the story on The Sun Times social media page pertaining to policies and citizen advisory committees. Read clarified in her comment she wasn’t speaking on behalf of the school board, just what she had found when going over policies.

“Policy 9140 describes how citizen advisory committees are supposed to be organized. Unfortunately, the school board did not use this when creating the sub-committee. The subcommittee was organized by Daryl Kipke, acting chair of the Ad Hoc Committee. To be fair to him, he has not taken any board member training yet, so he was doing the best he knew. And honestly, I just read this policy carefully this evening and was not aware of it when I was on the Athletics Ad Hoc Committee (2018), or I would have pointed it out. But if the subcommittee had been organized per DCS policy, there would have been a board member on it (Ron Darr nominated me, and I said I would love to be on the subcommittee, but the committee chair made the decision not to have any board members on the smaller committee.), there would have been subcommittee minutes that were included as information items in board packets, and the chair of the subcommittee would have been a community member chosen by the subcommittee, not a district administrator appointed to the task by a board member. Unfortunately, none of those things happened. But on the bright side, this is something the district can learn from! I’m sorry that I did not get on the committee, that the subcommittee minutes were not posted in the packets, and that DCS missed the opportunity to allow a community member to lead the subcommittee. I think that would have been really great. Also, if my reading of this policy is correct, the subcommittee has been dissolved because they finished their task. Citizen advisory committees cannot exist without a task assigned.”

This article will be updated with more information as it becomes available.

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