New or higher participation charges ahead if levies fail

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

If voters reject levies in cash-strapped school districts this spring, parents will pay much more to keep athletics and other extracurricular programs running. And "no" votes could be a death sentence for at least one program.

Canal Winchester, Reynoldsburg and Newark, each of which is asking for an operating levy on May 5, say that programs would have to support themselves with new participation fees. South-Western schools will eliminate all activities and sports, rather than bill families $700 per activity, if voters reject a levy request that would cost $254 per $100,000 of house value.

"We are looking at the demise of athletics as we know it in the public-education system," said Kevin Jarrett, Newark's athletics director. For the fifth time since 2006, the Licking County school district is on the ballot, this time with a tax request that would cost $230 a year per $100,000 of house value for five years.

Most Franklin County school districts charge a fee to offset the costs of sports and other extracurricular activities. But more schools faced with tight budgets are talking about shifting all costs to parents or eliminating sports programs, said Deborah Moore, an associate commissioner of the Ohio High School Athletic Association. "The economic state we're all in right now is creating more and more concerns about this."

A 2005 study of public and private high schools in Ohio by a University of Dayton student found that 29.7 percent were charging participation fees. The top fee was $500. Moore suspects that the percentage charging fees is higher now.

Groveport-Madison school officials are considering participation fees for the first time. Charging $50 per sport would save the district $37,000 per school year, they said. Officials said the fee might rise if a levy that would cost $287 a year per $100,000 of house value for three years goes down in May. A request for $248 per $100,000 in house value failed in November.

Fees in Canal Winchester schools could rise to $500 to $600 per sport or activity if their levy fails May 5. Fees were doubled this school year to $140. School board member David Brobst said his three children are on a total of five teams, which could mean that he'd pay $2,500 to $3,000. "I understand it, but I don't like it at all," he said when board members recently discussed the potential size of the pay-to-play fee.

Even if voters approve the two-year request for a tax of $454 per $100,000 of house value on May 5, finances will be tight, district officials say. Board members instructed Superintendent Kimberley Miller-Smith to see whether $250 per activity would be sufficient to balance the budget if voters pass the levy.

Reynoldsburg schools already increased fees this year, to $100 per activity from $35, for spring sports. That accounted for $15,000 of $387,000 in budget cuts after voters rejected a request for a tax of $211 per $100,000 of house value in November.

The school board is asking for $478 per $100,000 of house value in May and says sports and other extracurricular activities will have to be funded through fees if the property tax doesn't pass. That could mean $800 per student per activity, based on current participation and costs.