About 20 percent of athletes - 445 students - in Mesa Unified School District are receiving some type of assistance with the district's new $100-per-sport athletic fee.
This summer, the district governing board approved the pay-for-play fee to help offset the $33 million in cuts the district had to make to the budget. So far, it's garnered about $156,000 for the district, athletic director Steve Hogen told the governing board this week.
The fee is charged to students for the first three sports they participate in, with a $300 maximum per year. But the program was set up so families that are struggling financially could ask for a partial or full waiver.
There are 2,920 student athletes on the rolls, Hogen said, with about 325 (15 percent) unaccounted for so far this year. That means either they have not paid or they have not discussed their financial situations with coaches or athletic managers, he said.
Students at Mountain View High School received the least amount of assistance - 8 percent, he said. Westwood High School students received the most - 48 percent.
Comparing this year to last year, Hogen said participation in athletics hasn't shrunk much at the three district high schools that had all four grades last year. (Ninth-graders were moved to the remaining district high schools this year.)
The biggest drop was seen at Westwood, with a loss of 24 students, he said. But he attributed part of that to a move this year from four football teams to three. One team was dropped because of low participation at the end of last year, he said.
Governing board member Mike Hughes said he was concerned about the feelings out there surrounding the new fee.
"We did not want to create an atmosphere where kids would not go out because it was embarrassing to ask for that assistance," he said. He then asked: "Is there any indication that has happened?"
"Our indication is this has not been a problem," Hogen said.
Hughes and board president Steve Peterson said they understand parents' comments that have come in regarding the fees. But they also want to reassure them that the fee may be reviewed in the future.
"There is that sense that this is how it will be forever. I want you to know, we did do it this year. It's been an incredibly difficult time. With that being said, I think it is going to be looked at. I think it will be assessed," Hughes said.
Hogen said he plans to give a complete report about the first semester of the fees in January.
Several East Valley school districts have started the fees in recent years as K-12 education funding has been cut by the state.
Chandler Unified School District remains the only East Valley district without a pay-for-play fee.
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Michelle Reese, East Valley Tribune