Letter to the editor: Athletic fee increases will cause student disparity

(A letter to the Lake Washington School District Board) You have, no doubt, been inundated with responses regarding the proposed athletic fee increases for LWSD students. Many people are distressed at the rate of increase (366 percent) from the previous year’s fee; and they should be. But what many people may not recognize is the unintended consequences of what will surely be a decrease in athletic participation across the district and more significantly at certain schools and the resulting socioeconomic disparity that will be created.

This fee increase will have a much larger negative impact on those schools who have the bigger percentage of lower income earning households (as defined by those who are eligible for free and reduced lunch programs); a relevant statistic included in your own websites. Those schools include Juanita Senior High School, Kamiakin Junior High School, and Finn Hill Junior High School. A flat fee across the district is not a fair and equitable way to handle this increase.

We understand that the district is faced with significant financial challenges. We are all faced with the same economic strains as we try to find ways to cut costs and pay for necessities. We understand that athletics are not part of the core mission of public schools and that the most important mission is the education of youth. However, we feel it is imperative that the LWSD continue to treat all of their students fairly with respect to affordability of programs. Why is this any different than the school free and reduced lunch program? The core mission of our schools is not to feed our children. Yet the district takes great care to ensure that students are able to afford to eat at school by reducing the fee. What if we were faced with the need to pay additional fees for classes? Would the district make the cost the same for every student at every school? Our point is this: If you are going to offer athletic programs district wide, then the same economic principles you use to set fees for other programs should be used to set athletic fees.

And we strongly encourage the district to find ways to keep affordable athletic programs in-place at all their schools. The results of not keeping the programs and/or making them unaffordable will have long standing, unintended consequences that will likely result in societal problems, as well as increasing costs for future intervention. This will also very likely cause an increase in student transfers from certain schools, which will result in additional “transaction” costs to the district and the affected schools. It is important to stress that athletics keep kids in school, athletics increase academic success, athletic codes of conduct reduce the number of kids who become involved in drugs and alcohol, athletics reduce obesity rates, athletics teach life lessons, athletics build moral character and self-esteem, and athletics cross the boundaries of race, religion, and socioeconomic status thereby giving our kids an important portal in which to view the world that awaits them. We must find a way to make athletics affordable or we risk losing in more ways than on the field.

As the former President and Vice President of the Juanita Rebels Booster Club, I know that the Juanita, Finn Hill and Kamiakin communities will do their very best to make sure every student-athlete is able to participate. And I know the wonderful administrators, staff members, and coaches at these schools will do their very best to help us in this endeavor. We will continue to raise funds through public and private donations but the increase is significant and we will not be able to make up the difference. We must find ways to cut more of the costs, the district must look at ways to raise private money (advertising in schools), and we must have a more reasonable approach to fee structures to ensure that the athletic programs are equally available for all.

Edward and Martha Evatt, Kirkland