By Richard Gaines
---- — Mayor Carolyn Kirk has proposed using the city’s free cash reserve to lower the ceiling on the user fees charged to students and their families to participate in Gloucester schools’ athletic programs.
The state has certified that the city had $4.8 million in free cash after the reconciliation of the fiscal 2012 books.
The ayor’s user fee proposal calling for $33,080 is a part of a $1,721,762 distribution that she detailed and sent to the City Council. All expenditures must be appropriated by the council.
Kirk’s athletic fee proposal asks the City Council to provide the School Committee with the $33,080 that she says would cut the ceiling for athletic team fees per family from $2,000 to $1,000.
Under the existing system, according to Superintendent Richard Safier, student-athletes with the teams of Gloucester High School and O’Maley Middle School, which also includes competitive sports programs, are charged a user fee for each sport that range up to $380 per student for football, hockey, field hockey, baseball, basketball and other programs.
The fees are lower for other sports, such as track and cross country, and reduced fees are available for students based on family income, but — while school and teams’ officials say that no one is denied the chance to play — many observers have said they they believe the fees have discouraged a number of athletes and families from participating.
The Gloucester Fishermen’s Athletic Association – the prime driving force behind the Newell Stadium “renewal” reconstruction project — was launched with an eye toward providing assistance to students needing help in covering the city’s user fees, and the JJ Nicastro Foundation also provides scholarships for student-athletes to offset the cost to playes and their parents.
The city’s cash under the mayor’s proposal would not go to any of the athletes or families, but is based on Safier’s estimate as to what reducing the family cap to $1,000 would cost the school district, which does not directly fund any school sports programs.
“It is rare that a family hits the $2,000 family cap,” Safier said in an written exchange with Kirk, who sits on the School Committee, has a son who plays in the Gloucester High hockey program, and is active in the GHS hockey parents’ booster club. “If the cap were, however, reduced to $1,000,” Safier said, “it would have cost the district $33,080 on total fees of $146,484 collected last year.”
Safier explained that, under the current system, for a three-sport athlete, with each sport participation fee at $380, the family would be charged $1,140.
“If the cap is $1,000,” he said, “we would have collected $140 less,” he wrote.
The mayor also asked in an email exchange with Safier how much subsidy would be required to lower user fees by 25 percent or 59 percent and still keep the budget whole for all of the next fiscal year.
“Based on the 2011/2012 fees collected,” Safier replied, “to lower athletic fees buy 25 percent would require a subsidy of $36,621. To lower the fee by 50 percent would require a $73,242 subsidy.”
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.