Parents feel sticker shock at rising price of high school activity fees

Classes in Juneau are just starting on Thursday, but some high school activities have been underway for weeks. This school year, the district has drastically cut funding for activities and athletics, leaving some parents paying hundreds of dollars more for their kid to participate.

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The JDHS swim team practices at Augustus Brown Swimming Pool, Aug. 19, 2015. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)
The JDHS swim team practices at Augustus Brown Swimming Pool, Aug. 19, 2015. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Michelle Norman has two kids at Thunder Mountain High School. Her daughter is on the swim and dive team. At the first parent meeting for the activity, she was asked to pay “an activity fee of $600 and approximately $150 travel fee for each meet out of Juneau.”

Last year, Norman paid $275.

She says this higher fee struck her as ridiculous. So Norman did her own research on travel costs to meets in Ketchikan and Sitka, and says the $600 activity fee only makes sense if her daughter qualifies for state competition.

“My daughter has a good chance of qualifying for state and I expect if that happened that I’d contribute more, but I’m not comfortable with paying $600 now for a $200 expense,” Norman says.

According to Juneau School Board policy, individual activity fees for participation and travel must be approved by the activities director and the superintendent. For students who are in financial need, the district has a scholarship fund.

Superintendent Mark Miller says he hasn’t approved any activity fees.

“To my knowledge we do not have actual individual fees,” he says.

Miller doesn’t call the costs put on students or parents “fees.”

“Different sports are going about fundraising in different ways and some are asking for contributions from participants in order to limit or defray the amount of fundraising that they do,” Miller says.

Thunder Mountain High School Activities Director Jake Jacoby says every fall sport does have an activity fee.

“This is an individual fee that varies from activity to activity and it’s very low for activities that have low budget needs and it’s pretty darn high for the more expensive programs,” Jacoby says.

He says $600 for the swim and dive team isn’t the highest. The coaches come up with the fees, and Jacoby approves them, but he hasn’t taken them to the superintendent.

Jacoby says the fees go toward gear and travel, but the cost shouldn’t be coming out of pocket.

“There are fundraising opportunities that need to be provided by the teams in order for students to raise the money,” Jacoby says.

In an email from the swim and dive booster board at Thunder Mountain High School, parents were instructed to “bring your checkbook” to an Aug. 4 meeting. The main fundraising event is selling Christmas trees and parents were asked to think of other ideas.

Due to district budget cuts to activities, Jacoby says everyone – coaches, booster clubs, parents, activities directors – is working through a new process this year.

“I have had conversations with various coaches within the last week about fundraising and funding and we’ll continue to do so as all teams figure out what this means as far as funding all of their own travel,” Jacoby says.

Last school year the district budgeted about $1.5 million for the high school activities program, including staff. About $600,000 of that went toward travel.

For this school year, the district budgeted less than a million dollars for high school activities. Close to $600,000 of that came from the Juneau Assembly, and the majority of it goes toward administrative costs.

Superintendent Miller says in the past, the district covered the majority of travel costs for high school activities.

“Unfortunately we’ve been dipping into the bank in order to cover those costs and our bank account ran dry last year and so this is really the first year that we’ve had to say we can’t go over what we’ve allocated under any circumstance and we can’t allocate what we used to,” Miller says.

The district has set aside $150,000 of the Juneau Assembly money for potential travel to state competitions, travel that teams don’t necessarily budget for because it’s last minute. It’s hard to say if that’s enough money because it depends on how well teams do. There will likely still be fundraising post-postseason.