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New extra-curricular fee options ready for debate

WORTHINGTON -- The District 518 Board of Education will meet in a work session Thursday to begin devising plans for cutting half a million dollars off the 2006-2007 budget.

One option is to change the formula for assessing student extra-curricular activity fees. Today, families are charged $90 per student, per sport, for participation in varsity athletics, $40 per student for Middle School athletics and $30 per student for non-athletic extra-curricular programs. In each case, a $360 family cap is in place.

Board members are poised to debate the feasibility of a plan that would charge fees based on the revenue generated for each activity, the net cost to the district and the total cost per participant. Conceivably, students could be charged as much as $300 to participate in a single program.

But that probably won't happen, Superintendent John Landgaard said.

"I don't think $300 is realistic, at least all in one shot," he explained, adding that extra-curricular numbers are based on raw data and that no one in leadership wants to throw roadblocks in the way of families. "That's the problem you look at. You've got to make it tolerable. Another thing we've got to look at, we can't lock economically disadvantaged kids out of programs."

Data from 2005 reveals a wide disparity in extra-curricular revenues and cost per participant. By far the greatest expense is generated from football, with $39,215.43 spent on the sport. Boys basketball follows at $26,438.66, girls basketball $23,262.70, gymnastics $23,247.24, track $20,786.35 and baseball $20,406.00. But soccer, which generates $12,783.44 in expenses, produces the highest cost per athletic participant -- $458.44 net for boys soccer and $498.21 for girls soccer.

Football cost the district $277.81 per participant (net). Most varsity sports came in at between $190 and $360 net.

Today, hockey -- which comes in slightly less than soccer in expenses -- is the only District 518 sport self-funded, thanks to the Worthington Hockey Association. Soccer is funded through a grant, though after next year the grant money will no longer be available. District 518 will probably request that soccer be self-funded in the future, Landgaard said.

Whereas six varsity athletic programs cost more than $20,000 annually to the district, the most spendy non-athletic extra-curricular activity is Declam, costing $12,056.56 in 2005. There were 45 students participating in Declam that year, at a cost of $225.03 per student. In contrast, debate, which cost the district $8,794.41 in 2005, had just 12 participants that year and a price tag of $685.99 per participant.

District 518 spends about a half-million dollars throughout the school year on extra-curricular activities and takes in about $200,000 in revenue, translating to about a $300,000 net cost. That's actually a pretty good trade-off when considering the district's $19 million total budget, said Landgaard.

Even so, with the failure of a $900 per pupil unit operating levy to pass last November and the need to make major reductions for 2006-2007, a change in extra-curricular funding will be on the table. Landgaard acknowledged that many parents and students take a highly personal interest in extra-curricular activities.

"It's one of the areas that seems to rise to the top," he said. "It's the most visible to the public and has the highest level of public participation."

The option of raising fees is described by Board of Education chairman Bob Jirele as a "Catch-22." Obviously, the district must reduce the budget, he said, but the risk exists that students will open-enroll out of the district if activities are cut or if fees are too high.

And then there is the issue of balance and fairness.

"I've already had public comment saying all sports need to be reduced at the same amount," Jirele said. "We're still getting public input on it."

Landgaard said that the board will also debate the merits of increasing ticket prices. For 2006-2007, elimination of programs appears to be completely off the table, but a preliminary reduction list for 2007-2008 raises that possibility if the district is unable to generate considerably more money.

"There's probably varied thinking on the board on a lot of items," Landgaard said. "That's going to be their job, to try to develop some sort of consensus and direction.

"Do you just go to a flat fee (for extra-curriculars) and treat 'em all the same? Do you try to determine that one sport has a higher cost than another? There's room for discussion to occur," he added. "I hate to say it's controversial. I think it's a healthy debate to be equitable and fair."

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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