Monday, September 21, 2015

Athletic, transportation officials pitch for restorations

With the district in a better place financially than in years past, departments are coming forward and asking the board for some help.
At the regular Westerville school board meeting Monday, Sept. 14, board members heard presentations about potentially revising transportation models and pay-to-participate fees.
Scott Reeves, the district's executive director of secondary academic affairs, presented about the current status of pay-to-participate fees and their effect on athletic budgets.
As is, athletic directors get the majority of their revenue from pay-to-participate fees paid by students, and supplemental revenues come from ticket sales, advertisements, fundraising efforts and from the athletic booster groups.
"One rainy football game with low attendance can devastate an athletic department's budget," Reeves said.
Middle school students currently must pay $120 and high school students pay $240 for each sport they play. The fees have resulted in a noticeable decrease in students playing multiple sports, Reeves said.
For example, last year at Westerville North High School, 396 students played one sport, 127 played two sports and just eight played three sports.
Reeves said economically disadvantaged students are not exempt from the fees.
The pay-to-participate fees also must be paid by marching band members and have impacted numbers participating in band.
Board member Richard Bird said anecdotally that middle school band numbers have remained the same but high school marching band numbers have decreased.
Superintendent John Kellogg said if costs keep rising and athletic revenue continues dropping, then in the current model, the district might need to make changes to pay-to-participate.
Board members asked to see a couple economic proposals presented later.
"Extracurricular activities are known to benefit students' total growth and if they weren't, colleges wouldn't place such emphasis on them," said Bird. "Let's try our best to reduce the burden on parents and booster groups.
Board member Nancy Nestor-Baker said the fees were put into place "when we needed draconian measures."
"But we are still holding our families to those measures. This has been upsetting all along. It's institutionalized classism," she said. "It's a lie to say middle-class families in our community can sustain this burden."
Board member Carol French said the district's finances are looking good now, but controls must stay in a place so board members are not continually asking voters for money.
"I don't see all of the fees going away. Maybe some of the students need to get a job in the summer, which would teach responsibility," she said. "For us to just say we are going to pay for everything, I'm not sure that's the way to go. These activities are something that not every student participates in. We need to find a happy medium."
Board President Tracy Davidson also expressed concern about student safety.
"We know kids driving other kids to sports games in their own vehicles is not safe. I would like for us to look for alternate transportation methods," said Davidson. "I'm not saying get rid of pay-to-participate fees but there's some things we are charging for and we might not need to right now."
Additionally at the meeting, Becky Nitz and Chris Winesette, assistant managers of transportation for the district, also presented to the board.
They said the state mandates students may walk to school if they live within two miles of the school and the district is required to transport students in grades K-8.
In past years, the district offered transportation for students living within the 2 miles of schools. Budget cuts asked students to walk farther to bus stops and resulted in transporting less students.
Discussions were had about restoring transportation to where it was in the 2012 fiscal year, meaning the addition of 12 bus routes. But that would cost an estimated $696,000 annually for drivers, fuel and maintenance and $360,000 for to purchase four additional buses.
"This has a directly positive impact, regardless of students' economic status. I think this is something the community has been very vocal on. This is something we should consider as a board," Bird said.
"We need to address this issue. We made cuts back then, we now need to restore those safety standards," said Nestor-Baker.
"These are not kids that signed up for band or football and if it creates a safer situation, this might be a valuable tool to make a difference in children's lives," said board member Rick Vilardo.