Dear Members of Dexter Community School Board,
It has been brought to my attention that the board is considering a significant increase in pay-to-play fees for sports participation tor grades 7 through 12. The reasons for this have not been identified by the board in any communication that I have been able to uncover, and when questioned about this at the June 10, 2019 board meeting, the only responses were vague mentions of trying to organize the athletic department and the need to have a single vision and mission statement. The lack of transparency regarding the funding of different athletic teams at the schools is shocking given that the board is asking for more money without a clear plan of how to utilize it (nor a clear history of how previous funds have been allocated). It seems that the most prudent initial step would be to analyze the current spending and hold all teams and the athletic director accountable for the budgets if there is a problem. At a minimum, a factual budgetary explanation for the need to raise pay-to-play fees should be provided to all tax payers, and absolutely should be able to be provided in response to direct questions. As a tax-paying parent, I can’t help but wonder if some of the over-spending related to lawyers that were employed to investigate various title IX complaints over the past year. If even partly true, that the need to clean-up this mess falls to the community is ridiculous since at least some of the original questions were not actually title IX complaints from the initiators but were steered in that direction by the board or its representatives and could have been handled better (and at less expense) by the board and the athletic director. Given the numerous controversies with multiple sports over the past few years, I also found it interesting that the athletic director was granted a raise during a time of such turmoil, and at a time in which the community is seemingly being asked to believe there is a problem with the athletic budget. The raised fee does not take into account (and does not apparently offset) the added costs parents are required to pay for participation in some sports, for items such as uniforms and equipment. Another interesting point is that even the added expense is not consistent among teams. Track and Field required athletes to purchase their own uniforms this year, and Golf and Tennis required athletes to buy their own equipment, just to name a few. As was discussed during the meeting, surrounding districts have much lower fees than Dexter (a fact that at least some board members did seem to be aware of). During the regular board meeting, one board member requested a summary sheet of the budget, fee allocation, financials for self-funded sports, etc. I do hope that the board delivers on this request and the many questions that were raised by parents and that such information is made readily available to the community.
In addition to questions regarding the financial need for any increase in pay-to-play fees, the impact of such an increase in fees on students seems to have received disappointingly little attention. The National Poll on Children’s Health conducted by the University of Michigan (UM) has repeatedly shown the negative impact of these fees on sports participation. (UM 2012, UM 2015, UM 2016, UM 2019) According to this poll, the nationwide average fee is for sports participation $161, significantly lower than the proposed fee in Dexter. Published results also show a decline in participation, particularly among households with incomes <$100,000 per year. (UM 2019) According to datausa.io, the median household income in Dexter, MI is approximately $80,000 per year, making the data provided by UM relevant to our district. Adding to that, many of the surrounding communities that fall within the border of Dexter Community School district have median household incomes that are lower than that of Dexter (e.g., Whitmore Lake, with a median annual income of about $51,000, and Pinckney, with a median annual income of about $75,000). Based on these findings from the UM surveys, it seems likely that an increase in fees will result in decreased participation in sports, and this impact is likely to disproportionately hit those households and areas with the lowest incomes.
As stated at the board meeting, there are a number of self-pay sports at Dexter. While members of the board repeatedly tried to discuss these sports, it does not seem that the increased fee will allow for any of these to become school-supported sports. So, I am still not entirely sure why their budgets kept being brought up by a few members of the board when those are the sports that have submitted meticulous records for the past few years, particularly if this increased fee will not impact them. Overall, I was extremely disappointed by the open chat session the board held prior to the June 10thmeeting of the board and continued to be disappointed in the subsequent board meeting itself. During the chat, one board member was clearly on the defensive and even raised his voice in frustration when parents asked questions about this fee. Parents repeated the same question over and over because each time it was asked, the board member would deflect and talk about “organizing” or “getting a handle on self-funded sports”. None of that answered the basic questions of: “Where is the money going”, “What is the current allocation of funds”, and “What is your plan”. This lack of transparency is alarming. In the bylaws and policies of Dexter Community Schools published online at neola.com, policy 6152 states that “a fee shall not exceed the combined cost of the service(s) provided and/or material(s) used. An accurate accounting of all fees collected all fees expended shall be provided to the Superintendent or his/her designee for each fee based activity at the conclusion of the activity along with remission of any fees not expended.” Therefore, this information should be readily available as this is a requirement mandated by the bylaws. I would be interested to see how this fee meets this policy for some school sports.
Again, the community needs to have a clear and straightforward presentation of the current financial status of the DHS athletic department and how increased pay-to-play fees will fit in with other approaches to meet future budgetary needs.
Darcie and Daniel Streetman