Starting in fall 2015, Beaufort County School District student-athletes can expect to pay for athletic insurance -- a fee they must pay to play.
District officials will determine the amount within several months. About 2,500 students participated in athletics last school year.
The Board of Education adopted the fee last month, saying it can no longer provide athletic insurance for free beyond the 2014-15 school year.
However, some board members, such as Bill Payne and Earl Campbell, are concerned that could prevent many students from participating in sports.
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Board chairman Bill Evans said he does not think that will be the case.
"The argument that we will lose all these kids who are low income," Evans said, "I really have a problem with that, because I think this fee is going to be low enough that no one is going to gasp."
Although the decision was prompted by budget cuts for the 2014-15 fiscal year, which began Tuesday, the fee will not be charged for another year to give families notice of the change. Battery Creek High School principal Edmond Burnes, who is a former Beaufort High baseball coach, said that notice period will allow the schools and athletic programs to explore ways to raise money for students who cannot afford the fee.
"I know my athletic director will work with our booster clubs and other organizations to see what sort of help we can offer those students needing assistance," he said. "Between the schools and the families, we will find a way to make it work."
Superintendent Jeff Moss said the annual fee will be the same for all student athletes regardless of type and number of sports played.
Several South Carolina districts have "pay to play" fees, according to Jerome Singleton, commissioner of the S.C. High School League. But there are no rules governing costs or what the fee covers. Those are district-level decisions, he said.
Beaufort County's fee will cover only athletic insurance, Moss said, and will not be used for equipment, maintenance or other athletic-related costs.
In the past 10 years, the district's cost of providing athletic insurance has grown from $160,000 to about $350,000, according to district risk manager Jennifer Staton.
The district is seeking bids from insurance companies to receive the most competitive rates, Staton said. The bids are due by July 21, and the district hopes to have a provider in place before Aug. 1, when preseason practices for fall sports begin, according to Moss.
"I do believe the market has changed, and it will be valuable for us to rebid," Moss said. "I think we will be able to secure something that will be substantially lower than the amount we currently pay."
Based on the coverage price, the school board will decide how much of that cost to pass on to student athletes. It could choose to subsidize the fee, or make them pay the full amount if it is low enough, Evans said.
The district is not required to provide athletic insurance but considers it an important benefit for families, Staton said.
The insurance covers claims up to $25,000. It will serve as supplemental insurance for families that already have coverage, and primary insurance for those who do not, according to Staton.
While many student-athletes might already be covered, the fee will be mandatory for all, Moss said. That's because the district is unable to insure individual students; it has to purchase a districtwide policy.
"Sports have a lot of injuries, so we want to provide insurance that can respond to those injuries and cover the treatment," Staton said. "We are trying to make it so there is not as much of a burden on the families."
Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at <a href="http://www.twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah">twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah</a>.
School board cuts budget by $3.4M -- reluctantly + survey, June 24, 2014