After about 100 parents and students upset with a dramatic increase in athletic fees packed a school committee meeting Tuesday night, Arlington public schools will establish a new panel to look at what the district charges for playing high school sports.
The School Committee voted 6-0, with committee member Leba Heigham abstaining, to establish an advisory committee consisting of parents and other community representatives to tackle how to fund athletics.
The move came after an agitated group of parents asked the school committee to explain why the athletic fees have in some instances more than doubled and parents called for the school district restore a cap that would prevent some families from paying several thousand dollars in athletic fees.
“The current school committee is on the verge of destroying a very long and proud affiliation [residents of the town] have had with Arlington athletics,” said Dan Keefe, one of many parents who voiced their complaints Tuesday.
In the spring, the School Committee voted to sharply increase the fees in an effort to avoid eliminating any athletics in a year when the district was facing a $4 million budget deficit. The committee increased the fees from a range of $235 to $315 for one sport during the last school year to a range of $408 to $720 during the current year. The committee also dropped a discount for students playing a second sport, as well as the policy of charging no fee for a third team, and a cap that prevented any family from paying more than $850 per year.
The new fees are higher than those in surrounding towns, and parents said they don’t want to see high fees prevent any Arlington kids from playing sports.
“We’re a public school system, not a private club, let’s keep it that way,” said Karen Lefkowitz, whose said her daughter is captain of the high school soccer team.
Parents also asked how their money is being spent, and if an oversight committee consisting of parents could be established to oversee the athletic program since parents are footing so much of the bill.
Diane Johnson, the chief financial officer for the school district, said that until the current school year the district had not tracked how much money was spent per sport every year. But this year Johnson said the district is tracking the costs of each sport. Johnson said the athletic program is expected to cost a total of about $523,000 this year, and fees will cover about $430,000 of that amount.
School Committee Chairman Joe Curro suggested establishing the advisory committee consisting largely of parents and guardians of students who play high school sports. School Committee member Joe Curran will serve as the school committee’s liaison to the committee.
School Committee member Jeff Thielman said the district needs look at all of the questions raised by parents Tuesday and attempt to answer them with a presentation at the committee’s next meeting on Nov. 23.