Board of education reviews pay-to-play fee structure

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By Dedra Cordle
Staff Writer

The fees attached to pay-to-participate were discussed at recent South-Western City board of education meetings.

During a visioning session on Feb. 29, the board debated potential changes to the fee schedule that has been in place since 2009.

Superintendent Dr. Bill Wise stated in the minutes his belief that any changes to the fee schedule should be tied to future operating levies to which a number of board members agreed.

Board member David Donofrio expressed his displeasure with the current fee schedule and asked Treasurer Hugh Garside what the impact would be to district revenue should athletic fees be reduced to $10 per sport and club fees be reduced to $0. The current fee schedule states that middle school athletes pay $75 per participant, per sport and high school athletes pay $150 per participant, per sport; club fees are set at $10.

Garside said that the fee schedule set at the rate suggested by Donofrio would decrease district revenue by roughly $436,000 per year and would create a “compounding effect.”

Sandra Nekoloff, the district’s director of communications, explained that reductions at that level had not been accounted for in the district’s five-year forecast and that it would have to be dealt with by either reducing expenditures in other areas and/or creating additional revenues.

Board member Anthony Caldwell said he has heard from families who feel the fee schedule as it is currently set to be a financial burden and believes there could be a compromise.

A majority of the board said when they set the pay-to-participate fee schedule, it was a promise to the taxpayers who narrowly voted to approve a 7.4-mill continuous operating levy 11 years ago that they must keep.

The fee schedule was up for passage at the March 9 meeting and several community members spoke out in favor of, and against, the current structure.

Sheila Ragland said she was in favor of keeping the schedule as is because it was a promise of fiscal responsibility to the community made by the board.

Autumn Skinner said she was against the fee schedule as is creates a financial burden on her family. Skinner has three children in middle school who all play multiple sports. She said that her family pays hundreds of dollars each year for her sons to participate and that is with the family cap of $500 and scholarships from Success Beyond the Classroom.

She said she feels the fees are a hindrance to athletic and extra-curricular participation, especially for those who live on the westside of the district.

“I sit in the stands of multiple sports and always wonder why our student athlete count is so lopsided against Grove City, Central Crossing, Jackson Middle and Brookpark Middle,” she said at the meeting. “Are their students really more interested in sports, or can our parents just not afford the fees? There’s talent that may not be seen due to the financial struggles of many.”

Skinner said she understands where the concept of pay-to-participate came from and why it was put into place, but wondered whether greater steps could be taken to lessen the financial burden for some.

She suggested a tiered system where the first sport is set at current levels, the second reduced at a voted-upon percentage and the third sport free with a family cap still in place.

During the vote on the unchanged fee schedule, Donofrio urged his fellow members to vote against the current structure as it “creates an unnecessary financial hardship” on families. The majority board voted in favor of keeping the pay-to-participate fee schedule as is; Caldwell, who voted in favor of the motion, said he believes there is still room for compromise in the future. Member Lee Schreiner expressed a similar sentiment but said it was important that the board keep their promise to the voters.

According to Nekoloff, the implementation of pay-to-participate fees did not eliminate the district’s extracurricular expenses. They continue to pay for “coaches/advisers, transportation, athletic trainers, officials/referees, security, ongoing maintenance and supplies and materials.” The district spends roughly $3.2 million annually for extra-curricular activities.

She also explained that the high school athletic fees are more expensive than the middle school level as high school athletics have longer seasons, more contests and require greater travel.

The board did agree to make a few minor changes to the annual fee schedule. Those changes include no charge for copies of transcripts and a standardized science fee for high school courses set at $10. Additionally, students who attend a College Credit Plus course on a college campus and pay for a parking pass can use that parking pass to cover the cost of their high school parking fee.

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