News

School Board strikes downs sports fee hike

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

Athletic fees for middle and high school students will not go up for the new school year.

At the Federal Way Public Schools board meeting last Tuesday, the board approved by a 3-1 vote the 2005-06 budget and opted to not raise the athletic fees to some of the highest levels in the state for large districts to help close the budget hole.

Board members Evelyn Castellar, Bob Millen and Tom Madden voted in favor of the budget and Charles Hoff voted against. Ed Barney was absent from the meeting.

The new general budget is anticipated to run more than $172 million. The School Board and administration spent the summer figuring out how to bridge a $1 million gap between expenses and revenue.

Despite the school district receiving an increase in state financial support, costs in several areas stripped the raise. The district has to pay voter-approved teacher salary increases that were suspended by the Legislature and former Gov. Gary Locke when the state’s economy went south. Health care costs have also gone up for the district along with a hike in the amount it contributes to the state pension fund. Fuel and utility costs also rose.

According to the district, none of its employees were laid off, but some were reassigned to other schools in the district or other programs.

In response, district administrators proposed the School Board increase athletic fees for middle and high school students, which would have generated about $115,000 to bridge the gap between the district’s revenue and expenses.

The proposal would have increased the high school athletic fee, currently $70 per sport, to at least $95, with a maximum fee of $190. Middle school students, who pay $40 per sport, would have had to pay from $60 to $180. Middle school basketballers will pay $20 because there isn’t any travel.

There had been so little opposition to the proposed increase, the district had already informed families of the new fees.

But at the board’s Aug. 9 meeting, Millen asked his colleagues to revisit the issue. He expressed concern the higher fees would keep some students from participating. Fellow board member Castellar supported him, but board president Hoff opposed not raising the fees, saying it would hurt academics.

Hoff pointed out cheerleaders paid $900 to participate and students learning to drive paid $360. He said it wasn’t right that student athletes were subsidized and not other groups.

Yet it wasn’t enough Tuesday night. The board approved the fees at their original amounts on a split vote. Families that already paid the higher cost will be reimbursed, district officials said.

The district will cover the remaining budget gap with a variety of cuts and increases, including:

• Reducing non-contractual stipends: $150,000;

• Reducing out-of-state travel for staff: $115,000;

• Reducing board members’ travel budgets: $7,400;

• Increasing middle school class sizes from 24.5 to 25 students: $240,000;

• Raising facility rental fees by 20 percent: $85,000; and,

• Using budget reserves for the remaining gap: $240,000.

Some organizations renting school district buildings — depending on the nature of the organization and activity — paid $10 in recent years, according to a district statement.

An earlier proposal to charge student governments more to transport athletic teams on school buses was deferred so there is more time to plan the increase for the 2006-07 school year.

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

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