Gilbert soccer moms and baseball dads met with school administrators in a public arena for the first time Thursday to discuss a new $5 hourly fee for renting fields for youth sports.
They shared where they were coming from: They were strong supporters of each other but both grappling with financial issues.
Clyde Dangerfield, assistant superintendent for business services for the Gilbert Unified School District, said because of $1.6 million in cuts by the Legislature in funding to maintain schools, the district already has had to hold off on projects. They include replacing a fire alarm system at Islands Elementary School, refinishing the gym at Mesquite Junior High School and installing a lawn sprinkler system at Pioneer Elementary School to help ward off mosquitoes attracted because water doesn’t sink into the compacted land.
"These programs are wonderful," Dangerfield said. "But they have to be self-sufficient."
Dangerfield listed $694,503 in needed maintenance that the district has to delay.
Superintendent Brad Barrett said during bad economic times the district first went to its own athletes for more funding, when it initiated a $15 fee to play sports.
But organizers of nonprofit sports countered that their parents, already strapped for cash themselves, cannot afford to pay more. They already tend to the upkeep of the fields themselves, they said.
"I know your plight," said Richard King, Gilbert National Little League president. "We’re not trying to take advantage of the situation."
League vice president Steven Voight said the field rental increase would add $10 to $12 per child, which could affect larger families.
"I think a lot of people are going to say: ‘This is what I am paying $5 an hour for,’ " he said. "A lot of the upkeep isn’t very good. And we put in our share."
Cindy Barnes Pharr, vice president of Gilbert Youth Soccer Association, said she bought generators after additional increases in utilities beyond the $5 to rent fields raised her league’s annual fee from $15,000 to $90,000. The team now plays at Barney Park, she said, instead of schools.
The district decided earlier this year not to require the new $5 fee be paid during this season as many parents were surprised by it. It will be charged starting next year.