Despite the ongoing public controversy about it, Harford County's $50 pay-to-play fee to participate in athletics is having little apparent impact on the players themselves.
According to a public schools spokesperson, there are 3,050 students on the rosters for fall interscholastic sports, and the fees have been paid, or waivers have been approved, for 99.4 percent of those student athletes.
Friday is technically the deadline for a player to either pay the fee or obtain the necessary waiver or else be declared ineligible.
Teri Kranefeld, manager of communications for Harford County Public Schools, wrote in an e-mail that 19 participants' fees were still "outstanding" as of Tuesday; however, she cautioned that school administrators are still entering their data for students who have paid or been approved for waivers.
"We will continue to reach out to the remaining students and parents to offer assistance with the process," Kranefeld added.
She said the coaches are working with their teams and players to ensure they and their parents get the information they need to make the payments on time, and point them toward resources which would help them pay the fees, if they can't.
While the first season where pay-to-play has been in effect as a budget balancing measure moves into its third full week of actual contests, back and forth continues among school officials, elected officials and members of the community over the need for the charges and the different exemptions and loopholes being provided.
In addition to imposing the $50 fee to participate in a high school interscholastic sport, school officials have also levied a $25 fee to participate in clubs and many other extracurricular activities in elementary, middle and high school, although not all of them. A number of exemptions and waivers are permitted, which has touched off hostility among parents, some of whom are also school system employees.
Teachers and other professionals in their bargaining unit are exempt from paying fees for their children to participate in sports and other activities, even if the parents are not members of the teachers' union.
The same cannot be said for thousands of non-teachers who work for the school system in classroom support, maintenance and operations.
Some non-teaching employees who have children in the school system have begun to complain about the unequal treatment, while others outside the school system continue to chafe at the fees which were implemented as a supposed budget balancing measure.
"The school system's definition of a teacher is an employee who provides instruction to students," Kranefeld explained recently. "That definition includes all employees who are covered under the [Harford County Education Association] agreement."
The Harford County Education Association, or HCEA, represents teachers, guidance counselors, media specialists, psychologists, occupational and physical therapists and speech and hearing clinicians, union President Ryan Burbey said.
Burbey said all Harford County school employees in those positions are eligible for benefits obtained by the union, whether they are members or not. Leaders of the HCEA bargain for about 3,200 of the system's 5,300 employees; about 2,000 teachers, guidance counselors and others included in the bargaining unit are union members, he said.
"We didn't ask for that, though," Burbey said of the fee exemption. "[The school board] just gave it to us."
Teachers do not have to be union members to be exempt from paying the fee, according to Burbey and Kranefeld.
"Anything that eases teacher pain, we're all for, but it wasn't something we negotiated," Burbey explained.
In addition to exempting children of teachers, students who quality for free and reduced meals, or FARMS, and whose parents are active-duty military do not have to pay the fees.
More than 11,000 elementary, middle and high school students received meals through the FARMS program during the 2012-2013 school year, according to data posted on the website run by the Maryland State Department of Education.