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SCHOOLS: School Committee Reverses Decision on Athletic Fee Hikes; Will Undertake Comprehensive Cost Analysis of Each Sports Program

By unanimous vote the School Committee reversed an earlier vote taken a couple weeks ago to increase athletic fees on the sports of alpine skiing and ice hockey. The vote came at the Committee's Nov. 28 meeting and followed meetings with concerned parents who said participation will decline in those sports because the costs would become prohibitive. The School Committee which has been wrestling with deficits in the athletic budget the past year had voted to increase users fees in alpine skiing and ice hockey from $300 a season to $500 - a 67 percent increase - after a study revealed that those sports were running significant deficits.

When parents learned of the increase, there was an outcry and many parents attended the Nov. 28 meeting to ask the School Committee to reconsider their decision. One parent whose child was on the ski team and who spoke at the meeting said the increase was sizeable and burdensome and would deter students from participating. She noted that last year there were 28 boys and girls who participated in alpine skiing and this year only 15 had signed up so far. She also noted that as participation falls off so does the quality of participation. She told the School Committee that the data collected on the cost of athletic programs is uneven and that user fees are being unfairly levied on different sports. "The ski team should not be made to make up for uncollected user fees," she said. " The ski team shouldn't bear the brunt of deficits in the athletic budget."

This parent also notd that the district's policy of capping athletic fees at $1000 per family would be reached so quickly when a $500 fee is assessed to one sport. She then commented to the School Committee that more research is needed before such a large increase is implemented.

School Committee members acknowledged that the timing of the increase was unwise and also that more research was needed to determine the costs of fielding each sport before revising athletic fees. Several School Committee members, however, thought they had had the needed information when they made their first decision. School Committee member John Giger said that he thought the committee had complete information when they made the recommendation to increase fees in alpine skiing and ice hockey.

The deficit in the athletic budget has ballooned to $145,000 in two years and Committee Chair Alison Manugian indicated that part of the problem was past uncollected fees. Giger stated, "The Athletic Budget deficit is escalating and we need to answer it." School Committee member Jim Frey noted that it appears the committee will have to move more money out of the District's Excess and Deficiency Account to cover the projected deficit this year.

Interim Superintendent Anthony Bent said that Groton-Dunstable's Athletic Budget does not fund athletic programs to the extent that is provided in other districts. He said the district needs to do more sport by sport analysis on their costs. School Committee member Berta Erickson said it is a very complex issue and also noted that the unique aspect of funding the football program (which is partially funded through private donations) will only exacerbate the deficit problem. School Committee member Leslie Lathrop expressed concern that if funding for athletic programs are boosted, other programs may suffer at the high school.

Manugian said her concern was the Committee made a decision which couldn't be backed up with adequate research. After more comments, Jim Frey made a motion to roll back athletic fees for alpine skiing and ice hockey to $300 until such time as a more thorough analysis can be made. The motion was approved unanimously. The committee did not expect to make any changes to athletic fees until the spring and will plan to hold meetings with parents after their analysis is completed.

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