MOUNT CARMEL — Wabash Community School District 348 school trustees heard from parents who have concerns regarding the district's "Pay to Play" athletic fees and the lack of school-provided transportation to and from athletic events.
Parents Todd and Dawn Drone and Tracie Guard spoke to the school board about their frustrations. "I am a teacher and I get off of work at three, then take a carload of kids to athletic events. My husband has to drive separately because the kids have to be there early. Then we have to pay to get into the event, pay the 'Pay to Play' fees plus by the equipment they need. It really does get expensive," said Guard.
Guard said she often takes student athletes to athletic events because she's off work at three, and other parents don't get off until later. "I have to take off early tomorrow from work so I can drive some of the students to a match. It does become a burden to parents who have to take off work to get their kids to school athletic events."
Todd Drone asked the board to take another look at the fees and transportation for school athletics. "As parents, we have to take two vehicles to away games because one has to go early to take the kids, while the other is still working. Also, I think our kids need to walk into competitions as a team, not one-by-one individually. As far as the fees go, I think we as parents just want to know where that money goes. We don't have any idea what that money is being used for," said Drone.
"It's paying the bills," responded Superintendent Tim Buss. "The money from the 'Pay to Play' fees goes into the district's general fund. That fund pays the coach's salary and facility maintenance," he said.
Mount Carmel High School students pay $75 per sport to play, with a $300 cap. Mount Carmel Junior High School students pay $50 to play per sport with a $200 cap. The district does not provided transportation for student athletes attending away competitions. If teams choose to use school buses, they must reimburse the district for mileage.
Buss said the "Pay to Play" fees generate between $20,000 to $23,000 each year. Mileage transportation reimbursements from teams are around $20,000 per year.
Wabash CUSD 348 School Board President Tim Schuler explained the reasoning behind those rules. "The district operated in the red a few years ago — in fact, we are still in the red. Instead of cutting out programs, we added the 'Pay to Play' and cut athletic transportation to help offset costs. We are here to educate students, not for the extra-curricular activities," said Schuler.
Not all the school board members agreed. "I don't agree that there is no educational benefit from playing sports," said board member Kyle Peach.
Peach said kids learn confidence and how to be a part of a team. "We can not discount things like that. I don't agree with the 'Pay for Play' fees plus paying for the transportation on top of buying equipment and paying to get in the game — it's overdone. It is my goal as a board member to end all of that. No, things are not great financially for the district, but it is getting better."
School board member Theresa Hocking disagreed with Peach, "We have more as a board to think about. When you have 27 kids in a classroom, we have to think about education first," said Hocking.
School board member Ryan Peter said extra-curricular is just that, extra-curricular. "You need to understand that two months ago, we took out a $2.6 working cash bond, which is essentially a loan. At the end of February, the district had $68,000, that's not even enough funds to run the district for two days. We are on the financial watch list with the State of Illinois. This is where we are at, and what we are trying to work through," he said.
Guard told the school board that she has six children and she paid $400 in "Pay to Play" fees last year and $525 the year before that. "I just ask that you look at the fees. Maybe set a family cap instead of a school cap."
Board members agreed that the fee cap should be reviewed. "I think we need to ask the athletic director to give us specific numbers on what the average number of students per family is. I also would like to see how many miles to away games there are in the athletic schedules. I just think we need more information before we vote on anything," said board member Janice Alka.
Buss said he will work on gathering more information regarding the mileage of athletic events and transportation costs, as well as more specific "Pay to Play" fees for families.
Members agreed to table the issue until next month's school board meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, May 14.