The Hernando County school district is correct to poll parents on a proposal to charge students to participate in middle school sports, but the web-based survey shouldn't turn into an opportunity to just say no.
Flat revenue from the state Legislature, looming class-size amendment costs, increased retirement liabilities and even the potential for higher fuel prices will translate into yet another lean budget year for schools.
Toward that end, the School Board, which previously discussed the idea of charging for middle school athletics during a March workshop, shouldn't be dissuaded from that reasonable approach. We offer that advice recalling the county government's reluctance to impose sports fees for its parks in 2008 amid objections of unaffordability.
In this instance, it is the School Board facing concerns about the expense of fielding sports teams.
Middle school sports carry a $200,000 annual cost, and charging a fee is being considered as an alternative to dropping interscholastic athletics altogether. The cost savings are sought as the district seeks $4.5 million to meet voter-mandated class-size reductions by the fall.
A Legislature-approved ballot referendum to ease the class-size requirement and the accompanying costs won't go before voters until November, and 60 percent approval is required for adoption. In the meantime, districts are preparing their budgets to meet the original mandate. In Hernando, that means, so far, adjusted school starting times to save transportation costs and pay-to-play for middle school student athletes. Neither idea has been presented for a formal vote.
Currently, middle schools offer football, volleyball, golf, cheerleading, softball, basketball, tennis and track. A year ago, just more than 1,700 athletes participated at the seven schools. Most of the program costs are tied to salaries and benefits for coaching supplements.
Expecting the district to absorb the entire cost is a luxury it can no longer afford. The current online survey asks parents whether their children will continue to play middle school sports if they have to pay up to a $50 per-sport fee. In neighboring Pasco County, fees are $45, but capped at $75 per student and $120 per family for the school year. That, however, does not guarantee solvency, and cutting middle school athletics to save $450,000 is now under consideration there.
The Hernando School Board continues to recognize the value of interscholastic athletics. Sports and other extracurricular activities play an important role in a child's education, providing lessons in setting and achieving goals, teamwork, discipline, communication and time management.
It's valuable outside-the-classroom learning, not to mention it's fun for the student-athletes. Parents should be willing to help pick up the cost.