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Woodridge debates keeping pay-to-participate fees

4/25/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Becky Tompkins

To charge or not to charge? That is the question facing the Woodridge Local Schools Board of Education.

This past April, with sports, especially, in the red and with budget deficits from the district’s inability to pass an operating levy, board members approved charging fees to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities.

According to district officials, high school sports participation this school year costs each student $125 per sport and $75 for middle school students. Club participation costs $25 per student. There is no family cap.

Woodridge Superintendent Walter Davis brought the subject up at the board’s April 16 meeting, saying the vote last spring approved the fees for one school year, with the board to re-evaluate the policy annually. In the meantime, the district passed a 6.83-mill emergency operating levy this past November.

The levy has not solved all of the district’s funding problems, though. Earlier in the meeting, the board approved transferring from the General Fund $6,300 to the high school athletic fund and $4,000 to the middle school fund.

Treasurer Deanna Levenger said athletics is currently in the red and is most years, necessitating help from the General Fund. She predicted the sports deficit will get even larger because the cost of both referees and transportation has increased and “because we have more sports now” than just a few years ago.

The pay-to-participate fees have generated a little more than $90,000 this year, she said, with that money going to the General Fund to help toward coaches’ stipends and transportation expenses.

Board President Tammy Heffernan asked if anyone knew whether any students could not compete because of the fee.

Davis said they had no way of knowing that, but he knew of some students who had previously competed in several sports and this year cut down the number.

“There has not been a considerable drop in the number of participants,” he said.

Davis then said, “$90,000 is a lot of money, but I’d like to see all our kids participate” and recommended eliminating the fees for next year.

“We got over the hurdle of the levy, and I think it [eliminating fees] sends a message of thanks for your support,” he added.

But board members noted the chronic red ink in the athletic department and the uncertainty about how much funding the district can expect from the state for next year.

About the latter, Levenger said, “There are lots of numbers but no backup. We’re just sitting tight to see where it [state funding] lands and hope by June 30 that we’ll have a budget in place.”

Board member George DeBord favored keeping the pay-to-participate fees.

“As a parent, I expect expenses for my kid — I have some ‘skin in the game,’” he said.

It shows good financial stewardship to continue to help defray the costs of the programs, he said.

Board member Marilyn Hansen said she thought “we should hold onto it for another year until we see what government funding will be.” She noted the board had said the levy would keep the district at the same financial level, but that level might go down if state funding is decreased.

Board member Jeff McHugh suggested keeping pay-to-participate fees but lowering them a bit to help parents. DeBord suggested a family cap on cost.

Board members decided to seek more input on the fees from the high school and middle school athletic directors and others and then vote on extending the policy at their May meeting.

In other business, Davis said that security cameras are being installed in the schools. The Summit County Building Department had approved the district’s permit, he said, and the camera installer was to come the next week. They would begin with 10 cameras and then “we can expand,” he said.

The high school and middle school entrances are being restructured for safety, Davis said. The high school will get a new door through the guidance counselor’s area. The primary and intermediate schools are adding buzzer systems, he said.

“It’s taken longer than we had anticipated, but we’re doing what we said we’d do,” he added.

He also reported on a “nutrition audit” that has been done by Maureen Pisanick, a food service expert who analyzed the food service system in the schools. Food service is another area that is chronically in the red, Levenger said.

Pisanick found that only the intermediate school is operating in the black, according to Davis.

This past summer, the federal government issued nationwide school lunch guidelines, he said. The challenge is to comply with the guidelines to serve healthier food, while the costs of labor and food have increased since the new regulations came out, Levenger said.

District officials are especially concerned about the low percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches who actually get the lunches: concerned both because the children may not be eating and because the district loses government reimbursement if those students do not get meals, Davis said.

School officials continue to seek ways to comply with the guidelines and at the same time reduce food service costs, he said.

The board’s next regular meeting is scheduled for May 21 at 6 p.m. in the Woodridge High School Library, 4440 Quick Road.

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