Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013
By Amy Kronenberger
Pay to play a possibility
School board plans cuts if May levy fails
  ST. MARYS - Students at St. Marys City Schools will pay to participate in extracurricular activities next year if a proposed levy fails at the May 7 primary election.
School board members on Tuesday approved the measure as one of several steps to prevent a future operating deficit.
Superintendent Shawn Brown recommended establishing a flat rate for all activities. He pointed out the fees are not set in stone.
Athletes would be charged $100 for the first sport, $75 for the second and $50 for the third. The flat fee for participating in a school musical or play would be $50.
The board, quiet and somber, approved placing an individual cap of $225 and a family cap of $450.
"None of us want to do this, but if the levy fails we have no choice," board member Lisa Tobin said. "We need to let people know that; we have no choice."
Treasurer Tom Sommer said the district is spending about $1 million more than it's receiving in revenue each year. The board last month approved several cuts through attrition to prevent a $700,000 deficit by July 2014. The proposed levy, a combined property tax and earned income tax, would bring in $3.25 million annually.
The district spends $230,000 annually for athletics and $13,500 for school musicals/plays.
The board did not include band and choir in the pay-to-participate plan after high school principal Dave Lewis pointed out the classes qualify for the fine arts credit students need to graduate. The board plans to look into establishing a class fee.
Brown said the board needs to consider unintended consequences, such as a reimbursement policy if a student quits mid season or is removed from the team for violating the code of ethics. He also recommended considering a sliding scale for students on the free and reduced lunch program.
Tobin said she didn't believe it was fair to make some students pay for an activity and not others. Sommer pointed out the district already is doing that with the lunches and classroom lab fees.
Athletic director Doug Spencer said he researched the issue and found that one district lost 539 students to open enrollment after implementing pay to participate.
"There's no way to know if all those students open-enrolled because of pay to play, but I'm sure it impacted it," he said.
Spencer said the district recouped some of its students when it passed a levy and lowered the participation fee from $400 to $35.
Only one community member, other than staff, attended Tuesday's meeting.
Also at the meeting, Brown recommended approving a list of further cuts if the levy fails.
He noted that Gov. John Kasich's current budget projections do not give St. Marys an increase in funding. The budget is expected to be finalized in June.
"I would prefer to have a solid list of 'these are the cuts' and as need arises, start at the top and work our way down," he said. "That way the public has a clear-cut picture of what's going to happen."
The list includes cutting programs not required by the state as part of the core curriculum and eliminating non-required busing, mobile learning devices and the vocational agriculture program. Kindergarten would be reduced to half days, and cuts would be made to all music and art programs, physical education, libraries, foreign language courses, administrative positions and more.
The board approved Brown's list, but only as an outline that could be altered if needed.
"If the levy fails, most of this would need to be cut anyway," board member Ralph Wiley said. "So I think anyone on this list should be aware that the levy decides it. This is potentially the reality our district could have."
Board member Ronda Shelby agreed.
"Yes, we have to," she said. "We have to let the people know that this is what we'll have to do if the levy fails ... It's terrible."
Brown said he will post the list on the school website, www.sm.k12.oh.us.
The board will meet at 5 p.m. April 23 at the administrative office on Spring Street to discuss personnel. Their next regular meeting is 7:30 p.m. April 24 in the high school auditorium.
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