Making this year's cheerleading or basketball squad at the your high school may cost you more than blood, sweat and tears: You're gonna need some cash, player.
At least that's what some say is happening at several middle schools and high schools in the state's Central Valley.
According to a Fresno Bee report published this week, students are being pressured to either pay upfront fees or miss out on participation in extra-curricular activities.
The practice is illegal under California law, and school representatives have denied that it is occurring.
But the Bee found several examples of it happening nonetheless, including:
At El Capitan Middle School in Fresno's Central Unified School District, parents of cheerleaders received a flier in May 2008 outlining payment amounts – more than $800 – required for uniforms and accessories. The letter came with a warning that if they didn't pay in full by the deadline, "cheerleader will not be able to participate in events (including competition and games).
… Clovis High School told marching band and color guard students this year they "may contribute either $275 or fundraise that amount to fund the expenses incurred by being a member of the marching band program.
… Members of a Madera Unified baseball team can buy a "spirit pack" for $150. The district says the pack is optional, but it includes home and away game hats, belts, full uniforms and a practice shirt.
The story found that some of the schools, are using the word "optional" but requiring students to sign contracts agreeing to certain terms. In one example:
This year, Clovis East asked cheerleaders and their parents to sign a contract that established cost estimates for the season at $1,025. The amount included choreography, travel to a national competition – but not the uniform. It also outlined a payment plan, including late fees. Contract obligations include promising to maintain good grades and good conduct and also to pay uniform, competition, choreography, music and coaching costs.
According to the Clovis East 2009-10 competition handbook, "Parents of competing squad members will be asked to play a larger role in our fundraising efforts. Financial information, commitment and payment timeline is attached." Some parents feel so strongly about the activities that they find the money – no matter how much it hurts. Janet Hall lost her job last year as a bookkeeper. She has a serious blood disorder that requires medical attention, and she is worried that she might lose her home.
But Hall is determined to let her daughter keep cheering for Clovis High – even if it means not taking medications or getting medical check-ups. Last year she paid $1,600 and expects to pay the same this year.
Don't fret. Times are tough elsewhere, too.
In Long Beach, school officials are signaling that budget woes may prompt a layoff of possibly 750 teachers. Further south, the Voice of San Diego reports that school board members punted on wiping out a gifted-students program because of their budget problems, but are openly contemplating shuting down some elementary schools.
And in Los Angeles, the chief of the school system wants a $100 parcel tax on property owners to shore up budget woes, while battling double-dipping allegations and a probe of $200 million in salary payments to teachers who didn't exist.
Can you say, "ouch"?