News

Sports fees heading into overtime

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

To raise student athletic fees or not? A much debated question.

The issue was discussed again at the Federal Way School Board meeting Tuesday night, and there might be more change.

The board is expected to approve the school district's 2005-06 budget at its Aug. 23 meeting. That would include raising athletic fees for high school and middle school student-athletes, part of an effort to close a $1 million funding gap.

Other changes to get the shortage covered include increasing middle school class sizes, increasing facility rental fees and reducing out-of-state travel.

Student-athletes currently pay $70 per sport for high school and $40 per sport in middle school. The current version of the proposed budget would raise the fee for high schoolers to $95 per sport with a maximum of $190 for one student. At middle school, the fee is proposed to go from $40 to $60 per sport and a $180 maximum. It's estimated the increase would give the district about $115,000 toward the $1 million gap.

However, board member Bob Millen requested the board reconsider the increases. He cited a possible drop in sports participation if the fee increases are approved.

"I'm really wondering if that's a wise thing to do," Millen said.

The new fees might be the highest in the state. Sally McLean, the district's finance officer, said an informal poll she conducted with comparable-size districts serving more than 10,000 students revealed Federal Way's proposal would be the highest if approved.

Millen offered a series of cuts at the board and administration levels as substitutes to the fee increase. Those cuts include eliminating travel and mileage allowances for board members. Administrators would also lose their travel budgets.

Millen also suggested some student body funds be transferred to defer the athletic fee increase.

He received support from board member Evelyn Castellar, who said she would be willing to waive the travel allowance.

She also expressed regret for the board cutting the Outdoor Education program from the 2004-05 budget, saying it's an important program.

Board member Charles Hoff voiced his continued opposition to going back on raising the athletic fees.

Classroom funding is cut each year and that hurts academic performance, Hoff said. Improving academics is the district's first priority, he added.

"That cannot happen on a ballfield," Hoff said with apparent frustration.

Articles in newspapers and e-mails from people made Millen reconsider the increase in the fees. He doesn't want to make sports out of reach for those who need it, Millen said.

Opting not to raise the fees wouldn't mean a big loss to the district and its attempt to get funding into the classrooms, he said.

The board will take up the issue at its Aug. 23 meeting. McLean plans to present other options to fill the gap the fee increase would have achieved. Included in those options is drawing on the district's reserve fund for one year.

If the board approves the change, the district would still have to get the various student body governments on board. The district acts as the holding agent of their funds, but the students control how the money is spent.

Earlier in the budget discussion, a proposal was made for the student bodies to cover more of the costs of transporting athletic teams to games on school buses. That has been deferred until the 2006-07 school year.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565, mhalliday@fedwaymirror.com

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