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Pay to participate proposal nixed
MEXICO -- Following 45 minutes of discussion, the message was clear -- a proposal for a pay-to-participate policy for middle and high school sports and other activities was something the public or RSU 10 board members wanted to utilize.
The result was a near unanimous vote (one abstention) by RSU 10 members against the proposal.
The turnout Monday night was surprising light as only 75 people looked on, several of them there to suggest reasons why they opposed to the proposal, which would placed a fee of $50 per student per activity in grades 9-12 and $25 per student per activity for grades 6-8. In both cases, it would be for those activities that compete outside the RSU.
In their coaching careers, Dave Rackliff and Chris Brennick each noted they have seen kids over the years who don't eat when teams, after away games, stop to get something to eat, because they can't afford to pay. The bottom line is that there will be some parents who would not be able to afford the cost for their child to pay to participate.
Brennick added that at Mountain Valley Middle School alone, 79 percent of the students are on free or reduced lunch.
"Sports give a sense of community and for kids, a sense of belonging," he noted.
In a written statement read by Ward, Mountain Valley High School student Cody Smith said, "I feel that it is the wrong thing to do, although I think that it is unfair that the athletic department receives so much funding, while our academic community as a whole, has a deteriorating grade pattern. Grades, above all, come first, but the thing you have to consider is the fact of what happens when these programs disappear. I know that making students pay will weed out a lot of the students that are already on free or reduced lunch. If they cannot afford sports, or any other extra-curricular, what is the youth of our community to do? For some people, I know that sports and other extra-curricular activities keep some out of trouble."
Smith concluded by noting that if this decision is to be made, board officials should consider the well-being of the students, not just the numbers.
Supt. Tom Ward, who had been directed to check into such a policy as a way to raise revenue, said, "There isn't a pebble we haven't turned over in this budget to try to find realistic savings. I really respect where the board is coming from, where the community is coming from. My past experience with pay to participate isn't a good one. Is it worth losing some kids because they have too much pride to come forward and ask for help. I think that's the biggest problem."
"But I felt that we had to have the discussion. We had to put it on the table. We'll just keep plugging away. The goal tonight is for the board to give us a bottom line," he said.
Jeff Sterling, a Rumford selectman and former school board member, asked the board to consider a student activity fee. He said the board could determine the amount they want to raise for revenue divided by all the students in grades 6-12. He said this would cover other activities other than sports.
Other board members said an activity fee would be preferable to a pay to participate fee.
Ward said he will work with the administration team to "look at some kind of activity fee." After the meeting, he said any plan moving forward with this idea would not take effect during the 2012-13 budget season.
Following that discussion, the board, by a weighted vote of 11,870 to 5,458, passed a proposed 2012-13 budget of more than $35 million, which is a little more than $1 million more than the current fiscal year. The vote came after an extensive discussion on staffing and the possible impact on taxpayers.
Bruce Ross, vice chairman, led the effort for the 3 percent increase, noting that they need some money for a buffering effect, a way to pay for unexpected expenses that could occur such as a boiler going down. He said he supported the increase with the idea that the buffer money not necessarily be spent.
Ward said he supported the 3 percent increase. "One of the major problems is with no carryover, it puts us in a stressed budget situation."
Further, he indicated that any kind of carryover would lesson the impact on towns in the following budget year.
Director Betty Barrett, who supported a 2.5 percent incease, said towns in the RSU have a large number of senior citizens. "If you go 3 percent, you're being very unreasonable."
At the previous meeting, the board tentatively agreed to eliminate 32 professional and support staff positions, about a third of them involving retirees. However, the cuts of a half-time physical education teacher at Mountain Valley High School and one at Dirigo Middle School could be reinstated as Ward said with the obesity epidemic, particularly among the young, no physical education positions should be eliminated.
Ward was also asked to look into the number of cuts slated for Buckfield Junior-Senior High School.
With the 3 percent increase, Ward said he will also have an additional $100,000, which could be used to reinstate some of the $2.18 million made in cuts. He said what to reinstate will be determined after a meeting with the administrative team.
The board also accepted the resignation of Special Education Co-Director Paula Leavitt, effective July 1. She has accepted the position of Director of Special Education for RSU 9 in Farmington.