Guest opinion: Sports in trouble after drastic drop in 'Fair Share' donations
A recent opinion piece outlining Foothill High School's plan to have parents contribute to the costs of this year's graduation ceremony caused quite a debate on the Town Square forum. This debate reflects the resentment parents feel at having been asked to financially support their child's education, beyond the taxes they pay, beginning with kindergarten supply kits and continuing right through high school graduation ceremonies. Some of these parents choose to make a statement of frustration by closing their checkbooks when they are asked to make a contribution and at the same time are told it is a voluntary donation.
Unfortunately, the Pleasanton Unified School District does not seem to interpret the refusal to financially support such activities as dissatisfaction with the state of the school district's budget. Instead, the district believes that if parents are not willing to support programs the district's budget cannot cover, those programs should be eliminated.
For example, Foothill High School's athletic program is currently running a deficit of nearly $100,000. Parents have been advised that sports that are unable to support themselves this year will not be allowed to continue next year; in fact, several sports are in danger of being cancelled unless the teams raise the necessary funds before school begins next fall.
Why has this happened? Three years ago, 97% of athletes' families participated in the Fair Share Donation Program, a voluntary program for families to help cover the cost of running the athletic programs in which their children participate. This year, most sports are averaging 60% participation. Why the decline? Last year, when the ACLU threatened to sue California school districts for requiring students to pay to participate in sports, it became necessary to emphasize that the Fair Share program is voluntary and that no child would be kept off a team because a family chose not to contribute. Unfortunately, many families failed to understand that the children are not guaranteed a right to play at all, and that choosing not to donate puts under-funded sports in danger of cancellation.
At the same time, the district has completely eliminated support for the high schools' athletic programs from the budget and the cost to participate in high school athletics is rising. While Foothill has dedicated coaches and families working hard to solve the financial problems challenging the excellent athletic programs, many parents are under the impression that if they don't help to defray the costs, the district will be forced to find the money -- somewhere. Unfortunately, that is simply not true and it is likely that some athletes will find their team has been eliminated. When after-school library hours have already been reduced and important reading programs have been cut, parents of Foothill students need to understand PUSD will not find extra funds to ensure that graduation ceremonies and athletic programs will be continued.
High school athletics, graduation ceremonies and supplementary academic programs are important not just for the benefits and opportunities they bring our students, but also for the very real part they play in joining all students as a community and ensuring that each student's high school experience is completely successful. The debate about what is fair for parents to pay must be put on hold long enough to do what is right for the students of Foothill High School.
--Cathy Jetter is a parent at Foothill High School.