By Kevin Kelley
Students from Parkside Intermediate School, Lee Burneson Middle School and Westlake High School wishing to participate in interscholastic sports or extracurricular activities will need to pay a fee starting this spring.
The Westlake City Schools Board of Education unanimously approved a “pay to participate” program at its meeting Monday evening.
Board President Carol Winter said implementation of the fees was a difficult step for the board and one that will impact students’ opportunities. Vice President Tom Mays noted this is the first time such a program has been imposed on the district’s students.
Under the program, sports and other activities will be divided into four categories. The first category, Tier I-A, which includes the most popular high school sports such as football, basketball, baseball and soccer, carries a student fee of $125. The second category, Tier I-B, which includes middle school sports and some high school sports, such as tennis, track, cross country, marching band and cheerleading, carries a $55 fee. Students participating in a Tier I activity must also pay a one-time transportation fee of $65, which will be prorated to $22 for this spring.
Nonathletic activities make up the final two divisions. Tier II-A, which includes the high school drama club, yearbook, newspaper and student television station, carries a $35 fee. The math competition and jazz ensemble for middle school students is also included in Tier II-A. Tier II-B activities, which carry a $15 fee, include language clubs, music ensembles and the National Honor Society at the high school, as well as all other middle school and intermediate school activities.
The plan includes a fee cap for each student. A high school student will not have to pay more than $315 per year, a middle school student no more than $175. No payment plans, financial assistance or waivers are available.
According to district officials, the pay to participate program will raise $41,433 in the spring semester, and between $134,485 and $176,750 during the 2014-2015 school year.
A committee consisting of athletics Director Tony Cipollone, Westlake High Principal Tim Freeman, Treasurer Mark Pepera, human resources Director Anne Pyros and Lee Burneson Principal Paul Wilson developed the plan after studying what activity fees are charged by other public school districts. According to the committee, all other Southwest Conference districts charge fees except Olmsted Falls. The Ohio High School Athletic Association reports that 48 percent of public school districts in the state utilize a pay-to-play program.
Superintendent Dan Keenan said the pay to participate program was backed by a strong rationale, namely an effort to offset the district’s general fund expenditures for student activities while keeping fees affordable for students and families.
“There’s no perfect plan when you’re making tough choices,” Keenan said during the meeting.
Also at Monday night’s meeting, the school board laid off 12 bus drivers and revised school bus routes, effective Feb. 3. The bus routes now meet the state minimum requirements, namely serving students below the high school level who live two miles or farther from their schools.
The pay to participate program, the driver layoffs and transportation cuts were necessitated, district officials said, by the failure of two operating levies in 2013.
More cuts are expected to be made before the start of the 2014-2015 school year. Keenan proposed a total of $2.5 million in cuts to the district annual budget following voters’ rejection of a 5.4-mill operating levy in November. These cuts may include between 20 and 32 teachers and other educational professionals.