The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

January 24, 2014

Pay-to-play challenged

By Brenden West
Assistant Editor

---- — CLINTON — Prince of Peace Prep and Clinton Community Schools are accustomed to sharing. Both districts come from the same town, draw from the same tax base, and in several cases, pool their athletes.

That last point, though, is something the Catholic institution has started to question according to a letter presented to the Clinton Community School District board on Jan. 13.

Because of its smaller size, Prince of Peace doesn't offer certain extra-curricular activities like football, softball and swimming. The two districts have arranged a co-op agreement so Irish athletes can still attend the Catholic institution while tapping into numerous organized sports.

According to the letter, Prince of Peace administrators are asking Clinton to "consider a different perspective as to the formula" Clinton Schools use when charging the prep school per co-op student-athlete.

"We've always been charged for that," said Nancy Peart, Prince of Peace K-12 principal.

This week, she said, administrators at her school received Clinton's response to the matter.

"This wasn't anything new," Peart said. "There are squeezes on school budgets. We mentioned that our parents are taxpayers as well and we thought maybe we'd approach (Clinton Schools) to see if they'd review that policy."

Peart said her board did an informal study about other co-op athletic schools in eastern Iowa. Prince of Peace surveyed seven programs including Davenport Assumption and Bellevue Marquette Catholic. Of those seven, only one district — Calamus-Wheatland — had a "pay to play" program, charging $100 per student for football and soccer.

In Prince of Peace's case, the school pays Clinton Schools a percentage of the given sports' fixed costs. In one example, the Catholic school said if five of 50 athletes were from Prince of Peace, the school would be charged 10 percent of the cost of the program.

"We just wanted to see what agreements were with non-public schools," Peart said. "What we found, predominantly, was there was no charge whatsoever."

Funds for Prince of Peace athletes to co-op with Clinton are raised through the Prince of Peace booster club, Peart said. The dollars aren't taken out of families' pockets, but are generated through donations. The Catholic administrators said fixed athletic costs — like coaches salaries and travel expenses — would remain to Clinton with or without Prince of Peace athletes.

Clinton Schools Superintendent Deb Olson said in the district's responding letter that Clinton Schools have no plans to alter their policy on co-op athletes this school year. However, the district is revisiting its policy, Olson said.

If a change were to take place, it would happen during the 2014-15 school year or beyond.

Olson this week added that altering the district's policy for Prince of Peace would also mean the district would have to amend agreements it has with other area schools. She pointed to agreements with the Camanche, Northeast and Central Clinton-DeWitt districts that would have to also be examined.

"We do that with any school district that wants to have a sharing agreement with us," Olson said.

She added the pay-to-play policy does not affect junior high athletes at surrounding districts; only high school participants.

However, Olson said in her reply letter "the Clinton district has many costs associated with these opportunities for students and it is only reasonable this costing be distributed based upon the number of participants to the program and program costs."

Regardless of the inquiry, both administrators said they value the relationship they share. Peart said Prince of Peace's request came out of budget discussions her administration has had looking ahead to the next school year.

"Our kids have a great experience playing," Peart said.

Meanwhile, nothing about the inquiry should affect students' ability to continue playing in sports Prince of Peace doesn't offer.

"We have a great relationship with Prince of Peace," Olson said. "It's not with not understanding that we're all under financial constraints. The board had a different viewpoint."