Education

To avoid running afoul of federal law, Wake schools will pay fees for softball fields

Millbrook High School's Michaela Mook (left) scores ahead of the tag by Wake Forest High School's Summer Harvey (12) during the softball game, which was played in Raleigh on March 27, 2017. The City of Raleigh will now charge four schools, including Millbrook, for use of city softball fields.
Millbrook High School's Michaela Mook (left) scores ahead of the tag by Wake Forest High School's Summer Harvey (12) during the softball game, which was played in Raleigh on March 27, 2017. The City of Raleigh will now charge four schools, including Millbrook, for use of city softball fields. newsobserver.com

The Wake County school system will pay for some softball teams to use Raleigh-owned fields to help avoid potential federal problems that can arise from inadequate opportunities for female student athletes.

The city of Raleigh will now require Broughton and Millbrook high schools and Carroll and East Millbrook middle schools to pay for use of city softball fields after previously letting the teams use them for free. School officials say footing the $15,000 bill will keep the schools from cutting back on their softball programs and possibly running afoul of Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded education programs.

“We wouldn’t want those programs not to have continued use of those fields,” said Deran Coe, Wake’s senior administrator for athletics.

Wake is mindful of Title IX since it was among 12 school systems that were accused in 2010 of violating the federal law by the National Women’s Law Center. In a June 2012 settlement, Wake agreed to add athletic opportunities at high schools for female students, leading to changes such as offering STUNT, a sport that combines elements of gymnastics and cheerleading.

Softball is a popular sport for female athletes. Coe said all of Wake’s 22 comprehensive high schools and all 33 comprehensive middle schools field softball teams.

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Millbrook High School’s Nichole Mooney pitches during the softball game against Wake Forest High, which was played in Raleigh on March 27, 2017. The City of Raleigh will now charge four schools, including Millbrook, for use of city softball fields. Christine Adamczyk newsobserver.com

Coe said some older Raleigh schools don’t have on-campus softball fields for practices and home games so they use city fields. Previously, Raleigh let those school teams use the fields at no charge.

Ken Hisler, assistant director of Raleigh’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department, said the change was made as part of a review of the rental fee structure. He said the four schools will be charged the same rate as nonprofit groups that get a 10 percent reduction on the $30-per-hour fee.

Hisler noted that Raleigh has always been charged to use school district space. He said the city pays $145,000 a year in rental and associated fees for several camps held at schools that serve the same students who attend those schools.

At a school board committee meeting last week, school officials detailed the potential consequences of the four schools losing access to the city fields.

There are already significant differences in baseball and softball fields at Wake schools, according to district officials. Administrators said the equity gap could widen if schools limit the number of games, practices and off-season workouts due to having to pay for the use of fields.

Coe said the district will foot the rental costs since the schools hadn’t known until recently that they’d be charged.

School board Vice Chairwoman Christine Kushner, whose district includes Broughton and Carroll, said she can’t fault Raleigh for charging for use of the fields to help maintain them. Kushner brought up the recent request from local tennis groups to open up locked high school tennis courts for public use.

“We need to acknowledge that maintaining facilities costs funds,” Kushner said. “ Just as the school system, the city of Raleigh has a duty to maintain its assets. We’re facing stresses on public budgets.”

Henry Gargan contributed.

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui

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